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Del Mar will switch to dirt track in 2015

Del Mar has the only synthetic surface in Southern California. Problems had arisen with maintenance.

February 19, 2014|By Eric Sondheimer
  • Del Mar Racetrack will begin looking for the right dirt materials to replace its synthetic cover and start the permit process toward gaining a dirt track by 2015.
Del Mar Racetrack will begin looking for the right dirt materials to replace… (Benoit Photo )

Del Mar, the last race track in Southern California with a synthetic surface, plans to switch back to a dirt surface in the summer of 2015, track President Joe Harper said Wednesday.

The only remaining synthetic track in the state will be Golden Gate Fields in Northern California.

Santa Anita switched back to dirt in 2010. Hollywood Park has closed and Los Alamitos and Fairplex have dirt surfaces, so Del Mar was the only remaining track with a synthetic surface in Southern California.

The California Horse Racing Board had mandated in 2006 all the main thoroughbred tracks install a synthetic surface by the end of 2007 in an attempt to improve safety.

But horsemen complained about the synthetic surfaces, and problems arose involving maintenance that were never resolved.

"Let's just call it a grand experiment," said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the CHRB. "I don't think it was worth $40 million, but what positive has come from this is we understand more about racing surfaces today than ever before. I still consider synthetics promising. They were a novel technology and weren't ready for the heavy use we get in U.S. racing surfaces."

Harper said Del Mar will begin looking for the right dirt materials and start the permit process toward gaining a dirt track by 2015.

"We do like synthetic and still like synthetic, but one of the main reasons we put it in was because all the tracks were putting it in," Harper said.

By switching to dirt, Del Mar will also help its chances of landing a Breeders' Cup in the future.

Trainer John Sadler said he appreciated the early announcement of the switch, because it will give time for horsemen to make changes in strategy for breeding and acquiring horses in the future with the focus on dirt racing.

Sadler said horsemen have been very satisfied with the safety performance of Santa Anita's dirt surface. Santa Anita has hosted the Breeders' Cup the last two years and will host it again Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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