Because of renewed safety fears involving the synthetic surface at Santa Anita Race Track, the upcoming Oak Tree meeting could be moved to Hollywood Park.
Santa Anita has been the home for Oak Tree since 1969, and this year's meet is scheduled to open Sept. 29. But last Friday, in a meeting involving Southern California trainers and owners, fears were raised that a recent aeration procedure on the track had punctured the mesh, or membrane, that is designed to hold base material such as rocks well below the surface.
"Will your horse step on one of those rocks?" asks one trainer. "Are we to play Russian roulette with our animals?"
FOR THE RECORD:
Horse racing: An article in Tuesday's Sports section about the Oak Tree meeting possibly moving from Santa Anita Park because of safety concerns over the synthetic track there said Nick Peterson, a professor of engineering, would examine the Pro-Ride surface. His name is Mick Peterson. —
On Tuesday, the Pro-Ride synthetic track will be examined by Nick Peterson, a professor of engineering at the University of Maine and the developer of multiple test protocols for racing surfaces. Highly respected in the industry, Peterson was hired by the California Horse Racing Board and has been asked to make a recommendation about the track's safety.
In June, Oak Tree seemed to be headed elsewhere when Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach made a business decision to cancel the meeting's lease before deciding to grant another year.
There has been speculation that the Thoroughbred Owners of California would support a move to Hollywood Park -- which has a Cushion Track synthetic surface -- because the financial return would be larger. Oak Tree will pay Stronach a sizable amount for rent; Hollywood Park has offered to run the meeting rent-free. That's more money in the owners' pockets.
There is not time to replace Santa Anita's track before the Oak Tree meeting. If the meeting moves to Hollywood Park, however, there is time to start construction and install a new track in time for the main Santa Anita meeting, which traditionally opens Dec. 26.
Looming above all of this is Zenyatta, the sport's current biggest star, whose handlers deeply dislike synthetic surfaces. Owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs held their breath Saturday at Del Mar, where they let her run for victory No. 18. But their dislike of that Polytrack synthetic surface was evident.
The next race for Zenyatta could be a rich stakes race at Oak Tree, maybe even the one that is named after her. But if Oak Tree stays at Santa Anita, it could conceivably lose its biggest attraction and best day to another track, back East, where the surface is dirt.