Santa Anita cancels Saturday racing

ARCADIA, Calif. -- Santa Anita management was fearful its embattled Cushion Track surface would not withstand significant rain, and on Saturday the surface failed its first major test. After an overnight deluge Friday night, racing was canceled Saturday morning, with management citing unsafe track conditions.

"It just wasn't safe," said Santa Anita's president, Ron Charles, who flew to Florida on Friday night to meet Saturday at Gulfstream Park with Magna Entertainment chief Frank Stronach to discuss the ongoing problem. "The water hadn't drained enough. Unlike dirt, you can't scrape it off the top. We could have worked on it right up until first post, but this was the right thing to do."

Richard Tedesco, Santa Anita's track superintendent, reported that five inches of rain fell overnight. The rain stopped by Saturday morning, but the day dawned cloudy and cold, and more rain was forecast for upcoming days. The rain left the track quite soft on top. When the starting gate was placed on the surface in a test around 11:30 a.m., the wheels sank significantly into the surface.

Racing was scheduled for Sunday and again for Monday, with dark days on Tuesday and Wednesday. Charles said it would be a "day-to-day" call as to whether to race on upcoming days.

According to Charles, Tedesco believed the surface would be satisfactory for racing Sunday if no more rain fell before then. But the forecast from Weather.com was not encouraging. Another storm was expected to arrive here Saturday night.

The cancellation was the first at Santa Anita since Jan. 9, 2005, when jockeys refused to ride after that day's first race, in which a horse perished on a wet track.

Charles said Santa Anita was "looking at all options on how to get through the meet," which runs through April 20. Asked if some dates could be moved temporarily to Hollywood Park, Charles said, "I'd hate to speculate, but we are looking at all options."

Hollywood Park also has Cushion Track, but its mixture of sand, rubber, fibers, and wax differs from Santa Anita's. Hollywood Park was open for training Saturday, while Santa Anita remained closed, with horses confined to the infield training track.

Charles said he believed synthetic surfaces in general were superior to conventional dirt tracks, but that the surface installed at Santa Anita by Cushion Track Footings was, at present, not satisfactory.

"We know we've got a problem. It's not like we didn't see this coming," he said. "It hasn't drained from the beginning."

Cushion Track was installed during the summer, the result of a 2006 mandate from the California Horse Racing Board that all major Thoroughbred tracks in the state replace their traditional dirt surfaces with synthetic surfaces by the end of 2007.

Drainage problems were detected just prior to Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting in September, and work seeking to alleviate the problem was done in December, just prior to the start of the main winter meeting, which opened Dec. 26.

Santa Anita made the cancellation announcement at 8 a.m. Pacific time Saturday, four hours before the scheduled first post. The track remained open for simulcast patrons, and general admission was free.

Two stakes were scheduled for Saturday, the Grade 2 San Pasqual for older horses, and the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel for 3-year-old fillies. Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita's racing secretary, said both stakes would be re-scheduled for the weekend of Jan. 12-13.