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Back on track at Santa Anita

Drainage has been a problem on synthetic surface, but it should be ready for opening day.

December 22, 2007|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

With the opening of the winter meet only five days away, Clockers' Corner at Santa Anita normally would be a hub of activity. But things were eerily quiet Friday morning.

There were no horses training on the main track, no line at the food stand and only a handful of people milling around.

One was Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, now a commentator for horse racing network HRTV. He watched as a tractor pulled a harrow around the outside of the track and a truck spreading rubber and fiber drove around the inside.

"I think the track is going to be fine come Wednesday," Stevens said, referring to opening day of the winter meet.

Santa Anita's opening has been jeopardized by a drainage problem with the new synthetic main track, the ensuing difficulty of trying to fix that problem and all the recent rain.

But Friday's sunshine brought optimism and by midday Santa Anita announced that the main track would be open for training this morning.

Also, Ron Charles, the Santa Anita president who has had more than a few sleepless nights lately, is certain there will be racing as scheduled on opening day. Added Charles: "And we're expecting to have a good surface."

But he does not claim to have the drainage problem fixed.

"It has improved, but we're still not satisfied," he said. "The quality of drainage isn't as good as we'd like, so we're continuing to experiment."

Charles said winds Thursday night and the morning sunshine helped dry out the track, enabling workmen to make good headway Friday.

"This last rain kind of threw us for a loop," he said. "We were expecting a half-inch. We got an inch and a half and it caught us right in between putting down the sand, rubber and fiber. It slowed us down, but we seem almost certain to open for training [today].

"But we're not going to have a horse on that track until everybody is very confident that it's extremely safe, and once the horses get on there, the horsemen will tell us what they think, and we'll adjust."

Charles said there was too much fine sand in the original mixture, and it got into the blacktop base and essentially sealed it rather than leaving it porous. Seven inches of the top layer of mixture had to be removed. The new mixture includes some of the old sand, but Charles said it also includes a more coarse sand.

"It was quite a job, but we've got the blacktop cleaned and draining well," he said.

Another reason for optimism on Charles' part was the weather forecast. "It looks extremely good for the next seven or eight days," he said. "Opening day, it should be terrific."

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larry.stewart@latimes.com

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