Santa Anita Horsemen: Get Out While You Still Can

I started to write this column a month ago but several friends said take it easy on Santa Anita after the Feb. 6 card was canceled. That amount of rain, they said, might have caused racing to be canceled at any track. But after the Feb. 27 program was scratched, it is time to say this: If you are a California trainer with an aspiring 3-year-old in your barn: GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

First the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) was postponed because the Pro-Ride synthetic track at Santa Anita would not drain properly after heavy rain. Then the Sham Stakes (gr. III) was delayed due to the same problem.

You didn't have to be Jay Leno to come up with the line that the only thing that was a sham at Santa Anita last weekend was the racing surface.
Trainers with horses they think might be good enough for a Triple Crown race should be on a plane for points east, be it Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, or New York.

Or New Mexico. I agree completely with someone who suggested to me yesterday that the Sunland Derby (gr. III) will have a better field this year than the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). A trainer can get a final prep over a dirt surface, which horses will run over at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes (all gr. I).

As I wrote last week, this year the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico is worth a hefty $800,000 but more importantly is graded for the first time. The field for the Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters based on earnings in graded stakes.

Horse are not like a light switch where you flip it up and the lights come on and you flip it down and lights go off. Trainers point horses to certain races and trainers look at how many weeks are between races. Yes, trainers can adjust schedules, but that is not the preferred method of handling a horse.

As Steve Crist pointed out in a recent Daily Racing Form column, Santa Anita canceled four cards due to rain in its first 74 years of existence with a dirt track. The past three years, with a synthetic surface, 17 cards have been canceled.

By the way, the forecast is for 70% chance of rain at Santa Anita March 6, when the rescheduled Sham is to take place.

GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

79 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Matthew W

Especially when you consider the West is loaded with three year old talent this year! This is the last straw! They bragged about how well the track would hold up when it rained! Now it's a crap shoot! I've said this before, but after decades of not getting their proper respect, and I can remember Exceller getting beaten by Mac Diarmida for turf horse, and Seattle Slew for older horse--in 1978--as the all-time snub of West Coast Racing--along comes the Breeders Cup, rendering championship status for the host tracks---and Cali goes plastic, SoCal goes LoCal!...there's a little CalBred named Caracortado, he's gonna be around for a long time, (gelding), he's gonna make some noise in the Triple Crown this year--a LOT of noise--until they come to their senses, and bring back dirt racing to SoCal, I hope Caracortado, Zenyatta, Rail Trip and all the rest of the West Coast stars go East and stay East, I can still get down a bet on'em---and Los Alamitos abides!

04 Mar 2010 11:18 AM
Venceremos

And to think they're seriously considering Santa Anita as the permanent site for the Breeder's Cup.  

04 Mar 2010 11:53 AM
hasty road

When was the last "good" decision that management made for Santa Anita?  Didn't I just read that Stronich is sticking to the present surface?  

04 Mar 2010 12:19 PM
Yo Yo Wassup

I'm stunned that any owner stables their horse in California when it's so much easier to make a profit racing in Lousiana or Pennsylvania.

04 Mar 2010 1:10 PM
David

Before my years in racing I had made only a couple of trips to southern California.  Then, for about 15 straight years I made a trips to the “golden state” to solicit nominations in the January through early March timeframe.  I recall leaning up against the Santa Anita rail one morning and saying to the late Alex Harthill, you know Doc, sure does seem to rain a lot out here.  He responded, “hell, I’ve been coming here for 30 years and you might as well be in a (deleted) rain forest”.   If Satish Sanan’s out-of-school remarks are anyway accurate at least the monsoon season doesn’t extend to October.  Maybe regulators making decisions on behalf of real professionals wasn’t such a great idea.

04 Mar 2010 1:27 PM
needler in Virginia

Dan, you are so right! Never mind that this is the second SA synthetic surface in the last couple of years; SA is now returning to a dirt track, which will take ages to do as all vestiges of the old must be removed. All that money spent on the badly handled track transition, and now abandoning the synthetic for dirt, doesn't really speak too well for the judgment of those who are making the big decisions for the track. What can they come up with next...BESIDES losing all those cards due to rotten drainage? Didn't anyone know what sort of subsurface was required and how to prep for a proper installation? Nah, won't go there!

Trainers, heed the warning: get out of Dodge FAST!

Cheers and safe trips.

04 Mar 2010 1:31 PM
Andrew A

Right on the money Dan.

California is a national disgrace. I hope someone will stand up and put California on the right course again.  It's a longshot though!

04 Mar 2010 1:33 PM
LDH

I don't know what difference it makes what kind of surface there is if there are no horses to run over them or, for that matter, no race tracks!

04 Mar 2010 1:37 PM
marktoothaker

It is a shame, California racing has come to this. A outstanding Legacy of great horses, trainers, and racing. They deserve better than what they are now having to compete over.

04 Mar 2010 1:49 PM
bill casner

Turf Paradise, a dirt track, is experiencing  the same El Nino weather patterns this year as California and has had 8 cancellations.

Racetracks across America, a majority of which are dirt, have had unprecedented cancellations this year.

Cancellations have a strong safety consideration. Injuries to horses and riders are magnified by off racetracks.

LA was experiencing hurricane conditions last Saturday and racing would have been cancelled irregardless. The track was excellent for training and racing on Sunday.

SA received 6 inches of rain in 18 hrs. on Feb 5th and 6th. If the track had been dirt, it would have been sealed and would have been similar to Monmouth Park at the BC in 2007 and we all saw the breakdowns.

Santa Anita has not had a catastrophic  breakdown at the meet. By the data, it very well may be the safest racetrack in America. Rich Tedesco, the track superintendent, has learned how to maintain the surface and has done a tremendous job.

We have American Lion at SA and I will gladly take a safe racetrack over the inconvenience of having to reschedule our prep races.

04 Mar 2010 2:27 PM
Georgia Dupuis

I agree 100% with your comments. Fake carpet being applied to Ca. surfaces was a knee jerk reaction by the Ca.Racing Board after the breakdown of Eight Belles and Barbaro.  Everyone voted with their heart and not their head and that has put Santa Anita in the sad shape it is now in.

Due to the bad economic climate in Ca. and racing in general, they will not be able to afford to rip up the carpet and return to dirt. This can only result in owners and trainers going elsewhere.

Very sad situation indeed.

04 Mar 2010 2:51 PM
Bill Yates

It has become quite clear that potential Triple Crown horses that grow up training and racing on Poly have understandable problems switching to dirt.

Simply put if your horse has the talent to compete at the TC level an intelligent trainer would have to consider moving the horse.

04 Mar 2010 2:54 PM
Andrew A

Bill Casner, it's just like the safe stuff at good old Del Mar right?  

Do you remember these comments?

www.nctimes.com/.../article_76e60435-8242-51d3-9bc9-1a7debc5b864.html

Excerpt:

"Maintenance is the absolute critical thing," said Winstar Farm's Bill Casner, who owns Colonel John, the morning-line favorite in Del Mar's $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday. "They have tightened up the Del Mar surface this year. The first year, it was slow but safe. It was pretty good last year. This year it sounds like a herd of buffalo down there on the track."

How about we experiment outside of California for a few years?  Then get back to me about the herd of Buffalo!

04 Mar 2010 3:43 PM
Shamfan49

Considering that the State of California is itself teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, which will of necessity, lead to whopping increases in taxes and 'fees', I would fully understand owners and trainers relocating to a more fiscally responsible location.

04 Mar 2010 4:02 PM
nyfalcon

I have never been a lover  of fake surfaces, its  a shame  that  the trainers ,owners  and all the folks  who have toiled  with  the problem  have suffer as well as  the horses, but  the fan is  the one  who  realy lost out , S A   is  a great  track as well is  hollywood park. thank our lucky stars NYRA has not insisted in installing one  here! hope  that  they  recover  and get  back to GROUND one!!!!

04 Mar 2010 4:33 PM
RTR

Apparantly trainers have been moving their horses over to Hollywood Park for training. That surface has not had any of the trouble that Santa Anita has had. See article at www.hollywoodpark.com.

Dirt, synthetic, or whatever the track surface is the LEAST of the worries in CA. CA needs to get it together to save racing altogether in the state.

And, might I add, Zenyatta has only trained on synthetic. It's a weak argument to say that horses trained on synthetic somehow won't make it. The synthetic track problems are SOLELY at SA.

Will no one run in Dubai for the $10 million due to the synthetic surface over there? I'd bet many of those knocking the sythetic will show up there to try to get in on the big money.

04 Mar 2010 4:51 PM
Zookeeper

Bill Casner,

Thank you for defending Santa Anita against the onslaught of critisism this blog is opening up. It has become "a thing" to ridicule everything about California. Nothing we say in defence of it will change the minds of those who are bent on beating it down.

I'm a big fan of WinStar and always pay attention to your horses whether they run here or not. I visited your beautiful farm in 2005 and was treated like gold. The story of Well Armed has only reinforced my already high opinion of your organization. Best luck to American Lion and all the promissing 3yr olds you have in your arsenal this year.

It is an honor to have you blog along with us. Your words have been a blessing to me and I'm sure a lot of California fans. With people like you on our side, we will survive through this difficult period. Thank you again!

04 Mar 2010 4:52 PM
nyracingfan

As a handicapper and bettor, I will never go near a synthetic surface.  No Triple Crown race is run on one.  Michael Dickinson was unique.  Lots of lesser people have tried to make money copying his product.  I can see using it perhaps at training tracks, but on race day, NO.  The surface is too easy to manipulate for one thing.  It's incomparable from track to track. Or day to day, season to season, at the same track., heck morning to afternoon for that  matter. And I do not believe for one second that overall it is better for the horses.  Different surface, different problems.  Surfaces don't break horses down as much as poor training judgement does.

Two yrs ago I said "In 5 years there will be no polytrack"  I'm sticking to it.

Unfortunately, SA's inability to admit at the outset the severity of the problem is a sad case of poor management.  They knew the problem was in the base yet kept wishing otherwise and throwing money at the surface.  They should have just chopped up the money and mixed it directly in. Same result.

But to me, this type of management is indicative of the racing industry's typical response to its dirty little secrets. (Like drugs.  But that opinon will have to wait for the editorial on Pat Biancone.) It's as if they were ostritches with their heads in the sand - or rather polytrack.

Tough opinion I know, but there it is...

04 Mar 2010 5:56 PM
Karen in Indiana

I echo Zookeeper's sentiments. I was so thankful to be able to watch two years of Breeders Cup races with no breakdowns. And how many cancellations has Aqueduct and all of the other tracks that have been hit hard by the snow and the rain the last couple of months had? To immediately single out Santa Anita because it is synthetic is to ignore everyone else's closures and to ignore the safety record this track has been proven to have in the last two years. That's biased journalism at its worst.

P.S., Mr. Casner, I haven't given up on Mr. Hot Stuff. The race before last, it looked like he had regained some of the confidence he'd lost. But he does not like being whipped and he's stopped running every time he has been. Good luck with him and with all the Tiznows.

04 Mar 2010 6:03 PM
Pete M

Mr Casner, Nice to hear comments out there that actually represent what is going on. With the whining out here in CA you would think it is the only track with cancelations. Seems to me the old way of sealing the track and running in unsafe conditions is coming to an end, thankfully.  Yes the drainage at SA is an issue, but if that was fixed you would have a track which presented a beautiful safe Breeders Cup and a safe meet in the afternoons, not one horse I have seen has been fatally hurt during the races.  Los Al, a dirt track in CA races rain, shine, hail does not matter, nothing does...184 Breakdowns in the past 2 years to show for it.  

04 Mar 2010 6:07 PM
bill casner

Andrew A

I stand by my comments about Del Mar last season but it was still safer than when it was dirt.

The great news is that SA's Rich Tedesco will be the new track superintendent this year at Del Mar. You will see a track that will be skillfully maintained and one that will be safe for horses.

We have the ultimate confidence in these surfaces because we have seen a dramatic reduction in  injuries training and racing over them. We have shown our support by bringing some of our very best horses to Calif. after the installation mandate because we strongly feel it is in the best interest of our horses soundness

Question to Andrew---Do you own any racehorses and if so, have you ever had one break a leg off?

One thing is guaranteed-- our industry will not survive if we do not put the health and welfare of the horse at the top of the pyramid. Every time a horse breaks down, there will be people that will walk out of the grandstand and vow to never come to the races again. There will be owners that will be so sickened that they will get out of the game. Rest assured that this is a cold hard fact in todays world.

04 Mar 2010 6:54 PM
Gilbert

Andrew A put it in a nut shell no horse no race. say no more

04 Mar 2010 7:07 PM
Bob

Does the author of this blog or the people who posted even watch horse racing?  All I see around the country is cancellations and more cancellations caused from bad weather.  This just isn't in California.  Are you trying to tell me that running in the snow is a good thing?  The problem with Santa Anita is the drainage.  The track itself is fine and the track at Hollywood is fine and so is the one at Del Mar.  I don't hear you guys coming down on Arlington or Keeneland or now Meydan.   Also, I am born and raised in California and I have no clue what Alex Hartill was talking about in the post by David.  It hardly ever rains in California during the winter but it has to considering.....it's the winter!!!!  This year has been a wet year but we get those every once in a while.  California is a different kind of place not just for racing but for everything.  When the Breeder's Cup is held here, we have the largest handle than any other racetracks and the chances of it being below 70 degrees is almost zero.  Has the Super Bowl ever been in New York?  Belmont and Churchill can't get more than more than 10k in attendance ever except for the BC, Belmont, or Kentucky Derby.  Santa Anita averages over 10k every weekend and opening day gets more than 30k every year.  What racetrack does that other than Del Mar and Saratoga?  California has problems but so does every state when it comes to horse racing.  But, I would take our problems anytime if the option is Arkansas or New Orleans.

04 Mar 2010 7:07 PM
tvnewsbadge

Just curious, how many horses died per thousand starts when SA vs the death rate on Pro-Ride?

Anybody know? If not, why not?

04 Mar 2010 7:30 PM
Zookeeper

"And to think they're seriously considering Santa Anita as the permanent site of the Breeders Cup."  Venceremos 11:53AM

The weather in early November in So.Cal is without par. The track performed beautifully for both BCs hosted by Oak Tree. It is a fact the the track is not draining properly in a downpour but the BC has never been conducted in winter. Why wouldn't they consider it?

"California is a national disgrace."  Andrew A 1:33PM

What can one say in defense against such an outrageous statement?

"It has become quite clear that Triple Crown horses that grow up training and racing on Poly have understandable problems switching to dirt." Bill Yates 2:24PM

You mean like in the last KD? Mine That Bird, 1st; Pioneer of the Nile, 2nd; Papa Clem, 4th; Chocolate Candy,5th. Problems indeed!

"I would fully understand owners and trainers relocating to a more fiscally responsible location." Shamfan 4:02PM

The whole country is being run in a fiscally irresponsible manner. Yet fingers are pointed at us as if we are the only ones in the soup.

Those are just a few examples of the infuriating comments freely dispensed on these blogs. But California will survive, so will its racing industry, no matter how many of you would like to see us go down the drain. What fan of horseracing calls for the demise of ANY horseracing venue? Not me! I wish for all venues of this sport to grow and flourish and continue to give us great enjoyment. But what do I know, I'm just a California fan.

04 Mar 2010 7:37 PM
CTBETTOR

If I had a top quality horse, I would race in Florida in the winter, and New York in the summer.

Why can't owners and trainers see that?

04 Mar 2010 7:40 PM
Jersey Josh

Just sayin...Horse that brokedown at Monmouth were turf horses racing in the slop.  Most trainers would have never run.  

Weather issues will always play into how the tracks play into handicapping.  The cancelled days here in the East were not so much as a few snow flurries.  Trust me it was 2 feet!  Back to back!  My office closed because we couldn't get out of our driveways, and we NEVER close!  

When has a track ever run in 2 feet of snow?  

SA is a GREAT facility!  I have enjoyed personally before syn.

I have heard more about the rain and how the track can't handle it.  But I see it as timing.  Had it rained on a dark day, no one would have cared that a few horses couldn't train.  But when they are losing money on Saturdays, it's a problem.  

Going to be interesting to see what happens this weekend with the expected rain forecast.  

Friday cancell or Saturday morning?

04 Mar 2010 7:48 PM
Jodie

This is an El Nino year and it is about the only time California ever gets a lot of rain.  Give it a rest already, we need the rain as it has been nothing but drought for how many years?

04 Mar 2010 8:13 PM
TXLonghorn74

Get out of California? Get out of the US altogether!  The people running the sport in America are killing it off.  Racing is a business and those involved have a right to try and make money, but the canibalization of the industry by spoiled-brat, out-of-touch millionaires (sometimes billionaires) who must have their own way 100% of the time is amazing!  

Why should politicians run to the rescue if those within the industry can't quit stabbing one another in the back or leaking information to the media which will advance their own position?  

Breed turf horses that stay and send them to Europe!

04 Mar 2010 8:20 PM
eric

Amen brother!  And the bettors should be driving the vans and flying the jets.  Everybody needs to get out of dodge!!!

I guess California can count on 3-horse fields instead of 4!  HAHA!

04 Mar 2010 8:41 PM
Dennis H.

Simple answers to Santa Anita problems...any syn. track they install is going to fail because they make it to fast.Syn. tracks only work when they play slow...cold hard fact. Second problem Frank Stronach is a contrarian,he always does the complete opposite of what is generally considered the right way to do things,because he wants everybody to know he is smarter than everyone else...FREUD would label this low self-esteem. thats why Frank Stronach is the worst kind of track owner.If Stronach continues to own and run SANTA ANITA the track is doomed.     REAL SIMPLE.

04 Mar 2010 9:10 PM
Karen in Indiana

Gary Stevens has some interesting comments on racing surfaces in his blog on HRTV's website.

04 Mar 2010 9:52 PM
California Forever

Dan, with all due respect you are part of this east coast bias.  Just as many, if not more, NY and other east coast race days were cancelled this year because of weather.   So, why does Santa Anita get singled out?    Ridiculous.  

04 Mar 2010 10:06 PM
Kate Harper

Yes, thank you Mr. Casner for your comments.  I have attended Southern California racetracks for over 4 decades and was in support of the synthetic track mandate to, hopefully, make horse racing safer for both horses and jockeys.  Are they a cure all?  Of course not.  There are multiple factors in catastrophic breakdowns with misuse and overuse of medications being the primary.  Since the advent of quarter horse trainers into TB racing and their emphasis on speed, breeding evolved into stressing that factor over durability and stamina.  The end result is largely the physical weakening of the thoroughbred.

Santa Anita's problems with drainage is largely the fault of the base.  Other synthetic tracks around the world do not have similar drainage issues.  Even the Meydan race course in Dubai elected to use the Tapeta surface with the following comment in The Bloodhorse:

"Safety of the animal was paramount in our selection, and experience points to synthetic training and racing tracks reducing the number of injuries and prolonging the careers of the racehorse,” said Frank Gabriel Jr., CEO of the Dubai Racing Club.

I would say 2 excellent years of safe racing in the BC held at S.A. speaks for itself and the fact remains there have been multiple cancellations across the country due to severe weather.  A dirt track isn't immune to dangerous conditions from the weather and to suggest otherwise is laughable.

04 Mar 2010 10:10 PM
handicapper

Assuming much of what Frank Stronach said in the DRF was bluster, I still find it offensive and worrisome,from a horseplayer point of view. That's five Racing Forms and five Racing Digests and 25 hours (minimum) that I spent on canceled cards, at the current Santa Anita meet.

If I were a horse owner or trainer, I would also be furious. No discussion of breakdowns, injuries and inability to strategically schedule your horse's races?

Even Mr. Stronach stated he would not run his horses on his racetrack? Then he went to blame everyone else for the mess he is responsible for. I am not aware of any other synthetic track having to cancel their card because of rain.

For Mr. Stronach to condemn government for interference in free enterprise is ludicrous. Government, at all levels, has given horse racing a monopoly and an an almost exclusive opportunity to prosper, on the Internet. Xpressbet.com has not faired well agaist the competition either. Mr. Stronach chose a misspelled name and has played catch up to the other online services.

When Mr. Stronach gained ownership of Santa Anita, he had a brilliant idea...make the track hospital to everyday fans. Have promotions that have worked in other gambling environments...like cheap buffets. It not too late to start promoting horse racing like other types of gambling, by catering to the customer.  

For all the canceled days, Santa Anita should have instituted a refund or exchange policy. Bring your DRF and Racing Digest for the canceled card, and exchange them  for a food voucher or a next day DRF/Racing Digest/Tip Sheet voucher for any day. On the days when three consecutive cancellations occurred, this would have been a wise incentive to get players out to the track and a strong show of good will.

The 60's; the 70's and the 80's show, when you take the customer for granted, you lose an entire generation of horseplayers. Horse racing depends on horseplayers and horseracing is very much an inter-generational endeavor. Without socialization into the game, there is no next generation of horsplayers. Horse racing is learned and enjoyed in families and requires additional support and promotion, by the racetracks.

There are hundreds of ways to jump start this process anew, but forgetting about owners, trainers and the racing fan are not three of them; and blaming government is not the fourth. Ir all starts with understanding and appreciating your customers. Owning, training and handicapping the horses is not a "4 hour vacation". If Mr. Stronach and the other racetracks want to stay in business, they need to consider their customers first. This requires them to focus on putting on the regularly scheduled show.  Either fix the track or get a new one and do not look to government for more racing days until you can fulfill the dates you already have.

04 Mar 2010 10:12 PM
John T

I have yet to hear any track that

has Polytrack complain about it.They have been racing sucessfully on it for years in England,Ireland,Canada

and even the tracks that use it in the U.S.A I have yet to hear a complaint about it.If Santa Anita

had converted to Polytrack instead of Pro Ride they would,nt be having the problems they our having now.Sure Polytrack is not perfect no surface is but when I go racing at Woodbine it sure is nice knowing there is not going to be sloppy,muddy,slow surfaces no matter what the weather is.

04 Mar 2010 10:24 PM
Steve from CA

If I wanted to make myself a helluva baloney sandwich all it would take is placing all the nonsense written about the scourge of the earth (synthetic surfaces) between two pieces of bread. Steven Crist wrote that racehorses were bred to run on turf and dirt. Are you kidding me? Racehorses were and are bred to RUN, PERIOD! The racing surface is totally irrelevant, outside of safety. And could we please stop with referring to non-synthetic tracks as "dirt"? Belmont Park is called the Big Sandy because it's basically all sand. Churchill Downs is sand and more sand. Florida tracks? Try sand. One of the biggest races in the world is called "The Japan Dirt", and it's run on a track with more sand than than any beach you'd ever hope to visit. If you think sand and dirt are the same, you have my sympathies. The old Hollywood Park wasn't "dirt", it was some concoction called Sports Grids. In other words, all this hooey about "dirt" vs synthetics is really more about gamblers, owners, and trainers looking for reasons why they lost. As for horses, they'll run on anything. Some will like Belmont better than Aqueduct, and vice versa. Some will like Hollywood better than Santa Anita, and vice versa. Some will like the Calder turf better than the Gulfstream turf, and vice versa. So what else is new? So people, what's the problem? You like sand? Great. You like Tapeta? Great. You like grass? Great. Whatever, just do me one favor. As long as there's no safety issues, QUIT WHINING ABOUT THE RACING SURFACES!!

04 Mar 2010 10:46 PM
Waquoit

If horse racing is banned there will never be another breakdown. Don't you folks realize that the big push to synth tracks is leading to the end of the sport?

04 Mar 2010 10:59 PM
GhostTown

Mr. Casner,

Thank you for defending a decision that was made in hopes of decreasing the amount of catastrophic breakdowns in California.  I realize this has become a very sensitive issue, but I only hear complaints about California tracks.  What about Keeneland, Turfway, Arlington, Woodbine?  Yes, Santa Anita has drainage problems, but people complain about California tracks year round, yet I hear nothing about the other synthetic tracks.  I also hear complaints about the increase in soft tissue injuries, but I would rather see a horse pulled up (in most cases) with a soft tissue injury rather than a nose dive into the track because of a catastrophic injury.  I would think the jockeys would rather be in that situation also.  We seem to forget about the living, breathing creatures on top of the horses.  It may be a ten horse field, but there are twenty lives to be concerned about.  Do you think some of the attitude towards the soft tissue issue is because of mortality vs loss-of-use insurance?  Well, maybe that's not a can of worms to open at this time.  So in closing, I will say that I am hoping the racing gods or should I say Mother Nature will be kind this weekend since I am leaving Las Vegas and heading to Santa Anita.

Respectfully,

GhostTown

P.S. Anxious to hear how Well Armed is doing.  I have had the pleasure of seeing him in the flesh a few times and am looking forward to his return.  Good Luck and congratulations for all your hard work in the thoroughbred industry.

04 Mar 2010 11:33 PM
handicapper

Revised and edited comments from previous unposted post:

Assuming much of what Frank Stronach said in the DRF was bluster, I still find his attitude offensive and worrisome, from a horseplayer’s point of view. Those cancelled programs represent the wasted purchase of five Racing Forms and five Racing Digests and at least 25 hours I spent handicapping these canceled cards, at the current Santa Anita meet. If I were a horse owner or trainer, I would also be furious. No discussion of breakdowns, injuries and/or the inability to strategically schedule your horses’ races?

Even Mr. Stronach stated he would not run his horses at Santa Anita? Then he went on to blame government for the mess he is responsible for.  I am not aware of any other synthetic track having to cancel their cards because of rain.

For Mr. Stronach to condemn government for interference in free enterprise is ludicrous. Government, at all levels, has given horse racing a monopoly and an almost exclusive opportunity to prosper, on the Internet.  Be careful what you wish for.  Xpressbet.com has not fared well against the competition either. Mr. Stronach chose a misspelled name and has played a game of technology catch-up, to the other online betting services.

Mr. Stronach once had a brilliant idea...make the racetrack more hospitable to everyday fans. Have promotions that have worked in other gambling environments...like cheap buffets.  While he never instituted his idea, it’s not too late to start promoting horse racing, by catering to the customer, like other gambling businesses do.  Frankly, there is a greater chance of generating new horseplayers, with a reasonable buffet, while they view “free” handicapping lessons and get “free” horse picks, then most current promotional efforts.  People attract other people and sometimes humble pie is good for business.

For all the canceled days, Santa Anita should have instituted a refund or exchange policy.  Bring your DRF and/or Racing Digest for the canceled card, and exchange them for a food voucher or a voucher for next day’s racing publications. On the days when three consecutive cancellations occurred, this would have been a wise incentive, to get consistent players out to the track and a strong show of good will – a real apology, for the inconvenience they have endured.

The history of horse racing demonstrates when you take your customer for granted, you can lose an entire generation of horseplayers. Horse racing depends on horseplayers and horseracing is very much an inter-generational endeavor. Without socialization into the game, there is no next generation of horseplayers. Horse racing is learned and enjoyed in families and requires additional support and promotion, by the racetracks. Much is in place and much needs to be done.

There are hundreds of ways to jump start this process anew, but forgetting about owners, trainers and racing fans are not three of them; and blaming government is not the fourth. It all starts with understanding and appreciating your customers. Owning, training and handicapping horses are not a "4 hour vacation", as one Santa Anita ad suggests.  If racetrack operators want to stay in business, they need to consider their customers’ needs first and make building good will a cornerstone . This requires putting on a regularly scheduled show.  Either fix the racetrack or get a new one, but do not look to government for more racing days until you can fulfill the dates you already have.  Mr. Stronach, this is your responsibility and it past time you met it. On those cancelled days, Santa Anita runs last to every other racetrack that put on a card, and all of racing suffers.

04 Mar 2010 11:34 PM
exterminator

I lived in that area in the late 60s and worked weekends for a moving company when there was extra work while I attended college. My junior year it rained so hard we were evacuating people from houses near torrents of run off in flood control ditches. How many times did Anita cancel? NONE.

04 Mar 2010 11:54 PM
Lord Grillo

They have nobody to blame but themselves. Hollywood Park is an embarrassment. You could not take a date there without embarrassing yourself beyond belief. It is like a prison....ugly and depressing.

You wouldn't know it from watching TVG...showing the infield and the pink birds.

Santa Anita has human beings, but it is way out away from everything and nobody wants to drive that far in L.A.

I guess they want you to put $20 worth of gas in your car, drive to the track and pay $8 to get in, then $5 for a form....before you even make a bet.....and then have a disgusting place to be....like Hollywood Park.

05 Mar 2010 1:24 AM
Alex

The problem isn't the pro ride per se. It's the installation. If they totally started from scratch with the surface, they'd be fine.

05 Mar 2010 3:57 AM
Andrew A

Bill Casner, If you want to train on a synthetic surface then go ahead.  All I'm seeing is minor league racing in California and it's getting worse.  Yes, the Breeders Cup, the Breeders Cup, but what about all the other racing days?

In Europe and elswhere synthetic surface are minor leage.  Yes, Meydan, Meydan.  Talk to me in a few years.  Besides that I could care less what they do over there.  If people are enamored with the Shieks because they have money then good for them.  I don't believe oil money makes them especially smart.

The truth is that synthetic surfaces wear out and Polytrack/Keenland/Martin Collins Internation is the worst of all.

Was Del Mar 2007 anything like Del Mar 2009?  Not even close by your own admission.  Was Arlington 2007 anything like Arlington 2009?  Not even close.

This junk wears out with weather, usage, and maintenance.  Every three years the whole 19 tons of "whatever" needs to be replaced.  Adding Wax and whatever else you can get out of a used Vacuum Cleaner bag doesn't fix it.

Finally, I'm always amazed that industry leaders like yourself discount the Horseplayers that make up your hard core base of support(about 10% of Horseplayers).  They are always the last to consider.  Why is that?

If you don't need us then why not turn racing into an Equestrian event with no betting at all?  Where would you be then?

If you want to turn Race Tracks into museums with petting zoos then keep doing what you're doing.  It won't be long.

05 Mar 2010 4:31 AM
Bellwether

these blogs r good for "THE GREATEST GAME ON EARTH"...keep up the GOOD WORK!!!...

05 Mar 2010 5:19 AM
Hot Springs Guy

This is a comment for Bob. I have lived in Hot Springs for over 30 yrs. Oaklawn is one of the few tracks in the country that is still increasing purses. They also have decent attendence as far as I can see and put on a very balanced card. The people that live here support our track and look forward to the season starting every year. I worked for years with the horses traveling up and down the east and west coasts and I always looked forward to coming back to Oaklawn every year. Not only is it a great place to race, but the town itself is a wonderful place to visit. It is clean and the air is fresh and I have seen horses blossom here like no other place I have been. So I really take offense to your comment about Arkansas. You need to visit here before you make comments about something you know nothing about. I have been to California racing and I wouldn't trade Arkansas for the whole mess you have in California

05 Mar 2010 11:01 AM
Becky Johnston

You know I get so sick of hearing the horseplayers plight by anyone named Andrew.  Here's a plan for you Andrew A.  Go bet a "dirt" track.  Don't tell people that put millions of dollars into this industry what they should do with their investment.  You've got choices, make use of them.  If you can't do that perhaps it is time for you to hang it up. The whining about the horse players don't want to play these tracks doesn't hold weight, the facts don't support your statement.  You might as well spit into the wind as to say that horse players are going away from synthetics.  There are horseplayers like myself that have increased their wagering by 4,000% since synthetics.  

I will not bet on carnage ever again.  I will not put the bulk of my money betting into a system that doesn't make any effort to protect horse and rider, even if that means canceling in dangerous conditions.

I get so sick of people deciding that they speak for all horseplayers.  You are not MY voice, MY representative.  

In case you don't get what Mr. Casner is saying, the thing that is the same about synthetics is the breakdown rate, not your ROI.  That was the intention.  It was not to make your life easier by being able to put $2 on a front runner and collect your $2.10.

To answer your ludicous statement about Europe and anywhere else in the world?  Racing on DIRT is minor league not synthetics.  They don't run the Arc, English Derby, Irish Derby, Japan Cup any of those races on dirt.

I would put the fields of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, Breeders' Cup against a race like the Whitney, Woodward, Met Mile or Jockey Club Gold Cup last year any day.  

Hooray to WinStar and Bill Casner, you're sitting on a load of talent all over the country this year for the Derby.  You have proven you will do what is best for them and are being rewarded.  You are the gold standard of horse ownership in our forward-thinking times.  Don't let the dinosaurs of our sport get under your skin.

05 Mar 2010 11:47 AM
Zookeeper

Karen in Indiana,

Thanks for the heads up on Gary Stevens' article on HRTV's website.

He's been there... most of us have not.

05 Mar 2010 12:18 PM
Afleetalexforever

I really don’t know what to say with regards to the same tune being played over and over again by the So-Cal zealots. Let’s summarize, Synthetic surfaces are mandated for the entire state by the chrb, this board on May 25th, 2006 releases a document that says any major track would have until Jan 1, no track in operation for four weeks of continuous racing would be allowed to do so without the installation of a polymer synthetic surface.

Its funny that in the release it mentions the word progress, and that is the exact opposite of what has happened in California.  California racing seems to be decades behind with regards to the developing of a uniform system that allows for the govt, the chrb, the owner, the trainer, and the horse to all be happy with what is going on.  This same man Richard B. Shapiro, now comes out and states that it was a mistake to push forward with this mandate, (IMO, I could care less about the statistics that are presented in this blog with regards to losing racing dates and your shot at Ky Derby Glory) what I take issue with is the consistent omission of the actual facts about Cali racing.  I see the naïve Cali supporters come to this forum and make statements over and over and over and over again about the “safety of the horses at the BC over the last two years”, you know what whoopee that’s great, they started a number of horses over that surface and only 1 or 2 were injured and none catastrophic, that’s important and im glad for you.  Unfortunately these same simple minded people cant look at the big picture, but let me try to clear that big picture up.  In an article published on Feb 24,2010 By Brent Schrotenboer, UNION-TRIBUNE, here is the link for those too blind or unwilling to go find it, www.signonsandiego.com/.../latest-fatality-statistics-fuel-debate

California horse racing reported more racehorse deaths over the previous two years, 645, than any other reported two-year period, according to data released yesterday in the annual report by the California Horse Racing Board. The total number of deaths has gone up since the state board mandated that major tracks install synthetic racing surfaces for 2007. But other data, provided by the board’s equine medical director, show that such synthetics have helped significantly reduce fatalities per 1,000 starts.

I am sure some that have to be right fighters will spin this (I’ll Wait) but for those that look at actual numbers, 645 horses losing their life during this time is not a positive, the spin will be “well there were more horses starting so the percentage is low” NO ONE CARES ABOUT THOSE TYPES OF NUMBERS. For example if 1000 horses start in a year and 500 lose their life that’s half or 50% of the horses losing their lives if 100,000 start and 500 lose their life that’s still 500 horses losing their life although the percentage is much much lower, but no one cares about percentages, if I am a horse owner and I have 5 or 10 horses and 1 loses their life due to issues with the racing surface I’ve lost a large percentage of my stable, and most likely a horse that I loved dearly.  So please stop with the spins due to the BC have 2 years of safe racing, NO ONE CARES about that, we care about the horse and making sure they come home safe every time they leave the stall to race or train,  no nothing is perfect but things can be better.  Stronach owns the tracks but has all of ummmm how many horses running out West, 1 horse, does that tell you something, Jess Jackson has how many horses running out west, 0, even the popular John Sheriffs has been quoted as saying that synthetics is the worst thing to ever happen to horse racing. So where do we go from here, stronach wants the govt to back off and then he’ll put dirt back in, smart man I wouldn’t throw $11 million into a pot that the govt regulates and is going to stir and say, guess what dirt didn’t work go now to sand or turf or Tapeta, it’s a sad situation for all involved, I am glad we have tracks that like to think about tradition, which means maintain and have great upkeep of your track and the dirt is perfectly fine.  It’s a sad situation out there in Cali, boring racing, naïve fans and horses that run on surfaces that allow them to garner very little respect.  No Cali HOY anytime soon, lol, keep up the good work Cali, you’re putting an impressive product out there for the public to see.

05 Mar 2010 12:21 PM
Ann in Lexington

Bob, it depends on what part of California you live in. Arcadia is right up against the San Gabriels, so clouds pile up against the mountains and drop more rain than other places in the Basin. The towns along the whole front of the mountain range - La Canada, Pasadena, etc - are home to arroyos that are dry most of the time, but were created by heavy rain.

The Rainy Season lasts from about mid-November to mid-March, to be followed by the Dry Season and the Fire Season. Santa Anita has always had to deal with rain, not just this winter.  

05 Mar 2010 12:39 PM
dliebman@bloodhorse.com

Bill,

Thanks for commenting. I was not commenting about the safety of the racetrack but merely about how the drainage has caused the track to lose so many important days. Being a former trainer I know you realize how hard it is to start and stop on a horse when trying to follow a rigid schedule.

05 Mar 2010 3:38 PM
RTR

As stated before, trainers will go to Hollywood Park to train, (and so what if the race gets postponed for a week). This is yet another example of why Hollywood Park is an important part of CA racing  -not to mention the excellent location, perfect weather, etc. Ever been at SA in Sept., OCt, and even part of Nov.? Ridiculouly hot and smoggy - how's that good for horses?. And it's miserable to be there watching.

Instead of whining about surfaces and postponed race days, start working on getting CA racing back on top. We've got the best horses, jockeys and tracks - at least for now.

05 Mar 2010 4:18 PM
Zookeeper

Afleetalexforever,

It was very difficult to get past the putdowns in your condescending comment, but I did. I tried to concentrate on your arguments rather than the method you selected to deliver them. I printed the article you referred to and read it several times trying to make sense of it all. Am I wrong in surmising that your opinion is that a well maintained dirt surface is safer than a synthetic one? Then why didn't you just say that and save us the effort of shuffling through the insulting comments to get to the gist of it? You made some very good points. Too bad they are buried in a sea of condescending superiority.

I know I'm in danger of getting a searing rebuttal from you. Please go easy on me, my California Zealot's feelings are easily hurt. :) LOL

05 Mar 2010 5:03 PM
Margaret

I don't know about the rest of you but I'm tired of all the rain.  And I don't have to train in it to be sick of it...!  Happily we here in N CA haven't had to many mudslides and for the most part it rains like crazy and then it dries out for a day or two.  And then it rains like crazy again.

So I think its in the horses best interest to not have to train or run in this weather.  Many won't agree with me and that's okay.  I just don't want to see a Zenyatta get hurt cause someone is to much in a hurry.

05 Mar 2010 5:45 PM
Midway Sue

With all due respect Mr. Casner, I believe you stated in an eariler issue of the Bloodhorse you would like Santa Anita to be the official home of the Breeders Cup so I have to take your comments on this issue with a grain of salt.

05 Mar 2010 8:11 PM
Gilbert

it is not the surface thats pulling down cal. racing it was the people running the show.again in a nut shell six horse fields ver. twelve horse fields

05 Mar 2010 8:17 PM
Pasturelands

I agree, Dan.  Synthetic surfaces seem to be best for dry regions, like Dubai, where there is very little or NO chance of storms or heavy rains.  In my humble opinion, these "plastic" tracks are not made to handle too much water, unlike DIRT which is a lot easier to drain and dry, not to mention being cheaper to replace if damaged.  In terms of safety, I have yet to see any studies saying that plastic is safer than dirt.  So, for the purpose of practicality and safety, DIRT is really the best surface.

Too bad that they had to spend 30 million on plastic tracks at Sta Anita, before they realized the obvious.  Chalk that up to Experience.

I am looking forward to Sta. Anita changing to DIRT real soon.  And I hope that whatever is the track surface, they don't hold the BC on the SAME STATE twice EVER AGAIN.  

06 Mar 2010 2:19 AM
Bellwether

ANY WAY U LIKE IT...SLICE IT R DICE IT..."THE GAME" IS COMMING BACK TO THE TOP!!!...

06 Mar 2010 6:13 AM
Andrew A

Becky, my comment responding to you didn't make it through the editors room.  Maybe because of the links to other articles supporting my positon.

Sometimes I can get a little edgy in my responses so here's the toned down version:

I guess when you say you will not bet on carnage ever again you are saying you’re not betting Del Mar ever again.   As far as breakdown and injuries go the jury is still out but we know there are more hind end injuries and fatalities according to a study done last year.  How does that fit your scenario.  Why is it that 70% of the Trainers at Santa Anita want dirt back in Southern California?  They must want to make less money right.  If they’re horses are always getting injured or killed on dirt how can they make a living?  

Here is a quote from John Shirreffs:

California-based trainer John Shirreffs, who conditions undefeated champion Zenyatta, has long been a vocal opponent of synthetic tracks and, during a national teleconference today, he detailed why he feels the surface does more harm than good in developing young prospects.

“I personally hate synthetics,” Shirreffs said. “I’m more into developing young horses and I find that young horses really don’t like training on synthetics. I don’t know if you can imagine training on Velcro. When the foot lands, it doesn’t slide, it sticks to the ground. Depending on how synthetic the surface is, the horse can’t rotate the foot into the track and push off.

“Imagine running around flat-footed all the time without getting up on your toes and pushing off,” Shirreffs continued. “That’s probably how it would feel to a human.”

Then Steve Crist makes on of the best points in his article:

Framing the synthetic debate, as some of the surfaces' proponents do, as a choice between white-knight safety advocates and selfish, disgruntled horseplayers is an offensive ploy that obscures the facts. If these new surfaces were clearly safer, everyone would adjust and get behind them, but neither the anecdotal nor scientific evidence suggests that is the case.

Have a good weekend Becky.  As of the time of this post weather.com is saying the rain starts at noon.

Lets hope all the Jockeys and Horses stay safe.

06 Mar 2010 9:09 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

I love horse racing.  I love it at Santa Anita.  I love it at Del Mar.  I love it at Gulfstream.  I love it at Belmont.  I haven't been to Saratoga but it's on my Bucket List.  And I love, love love it at Oaklawn.  The loyal fan base there is the envy of tracks all over and needs to be seen to be believed.  So Hot Springs Guy, I hear you.

06 Mar 2010 11:40 AM
Pete M

Stronach recently said "he does not run on synthetic."  Thats strange, He ran over 100 starters at Woodbine (poly) and won some of the biggest races this past year.  Some of the anti-surface stuff you read is laughable.  Even the "owner" of the track cant keep the facts straight.

06 Mar 2010 4:41 PM
Judy ~ Burbank, CA

How's does the song go... "it never rains in Southern California..."

Well, it does! I was there today. With an umbrella!

Please, please Santa Anita do something QUICK!! I don't want to see racing canceled for Saturday, March 13! QUEEN Z is baaaaaack. :-)

06 Mar 2010 11:58 PM
Slew

It seems to me, because Santa Anita has a drainage problem from not properly installing the pro-ride, and because the entire nation has experienced significant, drastic weather conditions this winter, everyone wants to discount all synthetic surfaces.  Pithy argument.  Louisiana and Florida have had to cancel races because of heavier than normal rains that washed out their tracks.  Arkansas, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Maryland have had to cancel races because of tons of snow.  Yet no one is screaming to tear up any of their tracks.  If synthetic horses can't transfer their form to dirt, how do you explain Coneyance and Dublin sensational runs?  The largest percentage of the traumatic injuries in California happened at the 4 remaining dirt tracks.  Some happened on the turf.  Mr. Casner is a trainer; I value his opinion more than most of the bloggers who never actually even cared for any horse.  As far as handicappers go, if you can't adapt, perhaps it's not the correct line of work for you.  I have more sympathy for Eight Bells and Barbaro than I do for any handicapper.  Everyone is screaming, "we want dirt tracks" but I think you'd be hard pressed to find a real "dirt" track.  A previous comment mentioned most of the "dirt" tracks are actually sand.  So what do you really want?  A safe track for the horse and jockey, or just a leg up on your handicapping?  It's not an "either/or" situation, even though that seems to be the only perspective you really have.

07 Mar 2010 7:32 AM
Zookeeper

Judy,

The rest of that song is:"It pours, man it pours." But not yesterday, thank goodness! Although we did not have the perfect weather we are used to, racing was not impaired by the showers. Nobody was dumping buckets on the track. The forecast for this coming week is: rain tomorrow and NO RAIN for the rest of the week, including Saturday. My fingers are crossed.

07 Mar 2010 4:36 PM
LEON

"Synth tracks were said to be the new standard for top-class international competition, wildly popular in Europe, and a surface on which both dirt and turf runners would transfer their form.

Not a SINGLE race in Europe above the Grade 3 level is contested on a synthetic track, and in two Breeders' Cups on Pro-Ride, horses coming off dirt races were 0 for 43.

Rain, however, was never a pressing issue in California until the synthetic era. In its first 74 years of racing on dirt, Santa Anita canceled four cards due to rain. In three years of synthetics, it has had to cancel racing 17 times."

Those words were written by Steven Crist. Hard to argue with such strong evidence.

In the last meeting held with horsemen and trainers in SoCal, 70% of the attendees preferred a conventional dirt track over a synth track, and it is NOT because they don't care for safety of horses. So far, that argument has not been proven.

You guys are not blind, you just refuse to see the light.

07 Mar 2010 7:52 PM
Greg

Do we really want to go back to sealed dirt race tracks (where 2yr olds and Kentucky Derby prospects fall off the derby trail due to sore shins)?

08 Mar 2010 8:47 AM
Secretariat

I don't think people remember how bad it was on sealed dirt racetracks. I think people have short memories.

The concussion on the joints of a horse on a sealed dirt racetrack is tremendous.

These trainers (and especially the owners) will remember the good 'ole days, when sealed dirt racetracks were around.

If the owners don't remember the good 'ole days (with dirt racetracks), then their vet bills will surely remind them.

08 Mar 2010 9:00 AM
Andrew A

Leon, you hit the nail on the head with your comments.

People who love synthetic surfaces love the infomercials about them and the theory of how they are supposed to work.

The reality is that they don't live up to the claims.

08 Mar 2010 9:16 AM
GunBow

1) I would agree that the CHRB was premature in mandating that all of the major California tracks install synthetic surfaces.  The mandate was justified by either anecdotal, incomplete, or just outright biased studies concerning injury/fatality rates.

And to compound matters, each of the major Cali tracks installed a different type of synthetic surface, making the sharing of information and the collection of data more difficult.

2) Anecdotal evdience over the last 3 years suggest that, at best, synthetic surfaces have had a marginal effect reducing racing/training injuries and fatalities.  Other studies suggest synthetics have had little to no effect while others point to increased injury and fatality rates.  In short, it seems all sides can find some data to support their opinions.

Personally, a low point for me was the 2nd day of the 2008-2009 Santa Anita meet when Indyanne was pulled up in the stretch of the gr.1 La Brea(while on the lead) with what later turned out to be a fatal injury.  At that moment, I felt I had been sold absolute BS with regards to synthetics.  Then, there was last summer's meet at Del Mar, with a fatality rate far higher than the corresponding Saratoga meet.

3) The change from dirt to synthetics had a dramatic effect on handicapping.  California went from a place where speed is king to a place where speed is almost a detriment, especially around 2 turns.  The track profiles changed literally overnight.  At tracks where speed and speed figures once dominated, handicappers have had to rely more on class and other "subjective" variables.

The change has required handicappers to make significant adjustments, so I certainly understand why some would be frustrated and resentful.  After all, we're talking about a change that has directly affected people's pocketbooks.  For some, it has meant abandoning a lifetime of notes, data, and knowledge.

4) The cancellations of 2/6 and 2/27 were extremely frustrating for me, as a fan who attends Santa Anita regularly.  Like others, I had already put alot of research and handicapping into the cards, purchased and printed material, and was mentally excited to see a great day of racing.  The disappoinmtment and frustration was considerable.  I could not imagine how the owners, trainers, and jockeys felt!

However,:

1) I still do not understand why California is singled out as the recipient of all of the anti-synthetic backlash.  I have read few articles or comments about how Arlington Park "ruined" racing by installing polytrack, or how racing in Canada is "a joke" since Woodbine installed polytrack, or that owners and trainers "should avoid" Derby prep races in Kentucky because Turfway and Keeneland have synthetic surfaces.  

Why isn't there an article entitled "Kentucky Horsemen: Get Out While You Can!"

If the reason for the cancellations at Santa Anita is the synthetic surface, then shouldn't we anticipate similar cancellations for the upcoming Keeneland meet or the rest of the Turfway meet?  Don't they also have synthetic surfaces?  And if synthetic surfaces cause cancellations, shouldn't owners and trainers want to avoid prep races like the Lane's End, Blue Grass, and Lexington?

2) Perhaps the problem with Santa Anita is not the synthetic surface, per se, but the drainage system.  From everything I've read, including comments from Santa Anita track superintendent, Rich Tedesco, the problem is with the drainage system and, as a result, there would have been cancellations Feb 6th and 27th with a dirt surface too.

The problem stems from when the old dirt surface was removed and the new foundation, including the drainage system, was put down.  When they dug up the Cushion Track after the 2007-2008 winter meet and replaced it with the current Pro-Ride, they didn't rebuild the drainage system. The 2007-2008 meet with Cushion Track had been a near disaster in terms of cancellations, but there were few issues last year during Pro-Ride's first year, so the urgency to fix the drainage system wasn't high; I guess management assumed the problem was the Cushion Track and that with the Pro-Ride surface, the track would drain properly.

Of course, this logic has proven faulty.  What has made the 2009-2010 meet worse than last year is that California is experiencing an El Nino weather phenomenon and receiving far great rainfall than normal. The increased rainfall has exposed the faulty drainage system once again, which is why Stronach finally realized that the entire foundation of the track needs to be rebuilt.  

While it is clear Santa Anita made mistakes when it reconstructed the track 3 years ago, it is not clear the composition of the surface, in and of itself, is the reason for the recent cancellations.  More than surface composition, it appears the main culprit is the infrastructure of the maintrack, and the drainage system in particular.

3) As others have pointed out, Sanat Anita is far from the only track to have experienced cancellations this year.  In fact, weather cancellations have affected tracks across the country, significantly reducing the monthly national handle in January and February.

Not only that, the Bob Lewis and the Sham were not the only prep races to have been postponed.  If one remembers, the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn was postponed a week as well.  Yet, I haven't seen an article entitled "Oaklawn Horsemen: Get out while you still can".

4) The fact both the Bob Lewis and Sham were postponed for a week does not appear to have significantly affected preparations for either the Santa Anita Derby or Kentucky Derby.  

The Bob Lewis(Feb 6th) had originally been scheduled 5 weeks prior to the next logical local prep, the San Felipe (March 13th).  With the postponement of the Lewis one week, the gap between races was reduced to 4 weeks.  However, that still leaves plenty of time for both horsemen and horse.  In fact, it appears that each of the top 4 finishers from the Lewis(Caracortado, Dave in Dixie, American Lion, and Tiz Chrome) will be running in this Saturday's San Felipe.  So, in the end, it seems that few Derby contenders were harmed by the postponement.

What about the Sham?  Well, the Sham(Feb 27th) was originally scheduled to be run 5 weeks before the next logical local prep, the Santa Anita Derby(April 3rd).  Even with the postponement, the horses coming out of last Saturday's Sham will still have 4 weeks to get ready for the Santa Anita Derby.

What is more, none of the key contenders for the Sham scratched out of the race during the week after the postponement.  Of the top 6 contenders originally entered in the Sham(Nextdoorneighbor, Setsuko, Alphie's Bet, Outlaw Man, The Program, Kettle River), ALL of them were entered again when the race was redrawn.  In fact, the Sham received two new entrants with Marcello and Boulder Creek when the race was redrawn.  And, the race went off without a hitch on Saturday, and all horses returned safely.  The expected downfall never occurred.

The Bob Lewis wasn't the only stakes race scheduled for Feb 6th to be postponed.  Also originally scheduled to be run Feb 6th were the gr.1 Las Virgenes and gr.2 Strub.  How did the horses scheduled to run in those races fare with the postponement?

Well, they have done pretty good.  When the Las Virgenes was run on Feb 13th, it featured all of the main contenders entered to run on Feb 6th.  Additionally, horses from the Las Virgines just ran 1-3 in Saturday's gr.1 Santa Anita Oaks(Crisp 1st, Blind Luck 3rd) even though there was only 3 weeks between races after the Las Virgenes was postponed.

Like the Las Virgenes, the Strub did not lose any of its top contenders when it was postponed to Feb 13th.  Running back on 3 weeks, Strub runner-up, Misremembered, won Saturday's gr.1 Santa Anita Handicap while the Strub winner, Jeranimo, ran 4th.  The horse that ran 5th in the Big Cap, Rendezvous, was another Strub veteran.

While the postponements were undoubtedly an inconvenience to horsemen and fan alike, in the long run it does not appear to have had much of an effect on the horses.

5) I do not know if synthetics are any safer than conventional dirt tracks.  However, I can testify to how safe the Santa Anita Pro-Ride has been so far this meet.  I typically make it to Santa Anita twice a week, and I have only seen one horse suffer a catastrophic injury, and that was on turf.  The only horses I have seen pulled up and unable to finish a race were on turf.  Every horse I have seen run on Santa Anita's synthetic surface has finished the race.  I have never witnessed a comparable stretch on any other surface.

There's no guarantees, and I'm certainly not naive enough to think that no horse is going to be injured on the Pro-Ride.  All I can do is report what I have been witnessing; and it is encouraging.  

08 Mar 2010 7:15 PM
Zookeeper

GunBow,

Well you've done it again! Logically analysed the situation and expressed what I'm thinking about the whole controversy. I don't know either which surface is safer. Too many conflicting facts are presented as gospel and I usually find myself more confused than ever after each "expert" gives his/her opinion.

To complicate matters, California bashing enters the arena and really muddles the picture. Until about a year ago, I didn't participate in blogs. I knew of their existence but never looked into it. I read books, articles and listened to the talking heads on TV. What a shock when I discovered that the negative attitudes against California were still alive and well! I thought the prejudices against the West Coast were a thing of the past and had died off after Seabiscuit settled the matter on the track. Silly me!

Anyways, it's refreshing to read your posts. You make your points logically and without undue emotion... something I hope to be able to do some day.

09 Mar 2010 11:02 AM
pNewmarket

I'd just like to point out that although the highest level of race staged in Europe on a Synthetic track is currently a G3, the vast majority of horses will carry out most, if not all, of their training on synthetic gallops.

The Al Bahathri gallop in Newmarket is used by hundreds of horses every single day of the year and I've never heard reports of horses having trouble training on it.

09 Mar 2010 12:15 PM
Kate Harper

Thank you GunBow for your well-written and insightful posting.  Yes, California bashing remains a favorite pastime for individuals like Afleetalexforever whose rants and criticisms of synthetic track surfaces are borderline laughable.

I would say AAF's referal to West Coast racing as "boring" is simply typical jaded bias or perhaps he would rather watch horses run around a track in single file and call that historic, traditional racing at its finest.

BTW, most racing enthusiasts were very happy with 2 successive BC championships without a breakdown and this winter meet has been very safe as well.  Track surfaces are simply one component of safety, they're not the sole determining factor.  

The drainage issues at S.A. are related to the base, not the surface.  Other synthetic surfaces around the world do not have the same issues and that includes Woodbine in Canada which I assume gets substantially more rainfall than we do in Southern California.

09 Mar 2010 1:43 PM
Jodie

Freedom Star, A Street Cry mare, trained and raced in Caifornia by Baffert won big at Oaklawn Sat and she loved the dirt. Bet Zeyatta will do the same at Oaklawn.  She will run huge!!!

09 Mar 2010 1:54 PM
Bet Twice

Clearly Afleetalexforever only reads headlines.  If they had read the article (or the actual report), they would have seen the following:

"Overall in California through 2009, there were 3.05 horse deaths per 1,000 starts before synthetics and 1.93 since, according to Arthur’s data.  He said this translates into saving dozens of horses per year."

"Different surfaces also have shown different results. Del Mar’s switch to a synthetic surface has resulted in fewer deaths. It had 13 deaths in 2007 and 12 in 2008. Of those 25, 18 came on the synthetic surface. Before switching to synthetic, Del Mar had 26 deaths in 2006 and 17 in 2005 (total of 43)."

"Los Alamitos and its dirt surface accounted for the most deaths: 104 from July 2008 through June 2009 and 88 the year before."

I share Mr. Casner's view, that bringing down the number of fatalities is the only way to ensure the future of horse racing, and while synthetics haven't solved any of these issues, they have made a small dent.

For those clamoring for a return to dirt, it's important to remember that the weather in our semi arid climate makes it a much more difficult surface to maintain.  The dry high heat coupled with a lot of clay in the soil makes the racetrack hard, fast and often, more dangerous.  

Clearly Santa Anita is struggling to get its surface right and as many have mentioned, the drainage problem is a real issue.  While I'm not opposed to returning to a safer dirt surface, I'm not so deluded as to imagine it will silence SA's critics.  Once upon a time, everyone complained about speed bias, now its synthetics.  

As long as I have been watching horse racing, people have been deriding the backwards "left coast."   All I have to say is, lets settle it on the track.

09 Mar 2010 2:24 PM
Jerry

The California race tracks are managed by a few individuals whom are deeply intermingled with the State's officials. Harris, Moss, Shapiro and Arthur.  Their interests are a short_ term_profit not the Horsemen.

09 Mar 2010 3:13 PM
BLAH- BLAH BARB

I AM NOT A RICH HORSEOWNER, TRAINER,HANDICAPPER OR JOCKEY.BUT I AM A HUGE FAN OF SANTA ANITA'S BEAUTY, HISTORY, AND STAMINA. A PLACE TO GO HAVE AND A FUN DAY.I AM

A RETIRING PARI MUTUAL CLERK (AGAINST MY WILL) BUT THE POWERS THAT BE, WON OUT AND THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO CUT THE CLERKS BY 22.5%.

WHICH IS UNDERSTANDABLE. DURING THE

WEEK WHEN PATRONS ARE FEW AND FAR

IN BETWEEN. BUT MY FAVORITE TIMES

WERE SERVING NEW BETTORS THAT WERE IN AWE OF  SANTA ANITA'S BEAUTY.

I DON'T KNOW THE SOLUTION FOR THE

TRACKS DRAINAGE PROBLEMS MAYBE LOTS

OF WOMEN IN VERY HIGH STILLETTO'S

WALKING AROUND ON IT. NOW THAT

FRANKIE'S BACK WHO KNOWS. HE WANTS

THE CHRB OUT OF HIS BUSINESS BUT

HE CERTAINLY TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE

BANKRUPTCY LAWS. DID HE REALLY HAVE

TO BUY 10 OR WAS IT 11 TRACKS? WE

REALLY CANNOT COMPETE WITH THE

INDIAN CASINOS. WE NEED TO BE ALLOWED TO HAVE A FEW "INSTANT RACING" VIDEO BETTING GAMES OR OUT

AND OUT SLOT MACHINES. SANTA ANITA

HAS BEEN SENDING CHECKS TO THE STATE OF CALIF. SINCE 1934. WHY DO

THE INDIANS HAVE A MONOPOLY? OTHER

STATES HAVE SLOTS AT THEIR RACE

TRACKS. COME ON SACRAMENTO BIGGER

CHECKS FOR YOU TOO, WE'RE DYING HERE BABE!!!! TO THE NAY SAYERS

DON'T COUNT OUT SANTA ANITA JUST

YET IT AIN'T OVER TILL THE FAT LADY

SINGS!!!!!!!!!!!

10 Mar 2010 5:13 PM
Tom Smith

I guess you all miss the old days of five horse fields and P Val gunning to the front and no one able to catch the early speed. Stronach is the problem.

12 Mar 2010 12:09 PM
Slew

Gunbow: thank you for a well-stated logical comment.

Pnewmaket: Thank you too.  I believe I have often noted that while Euros race on turf, they actually train on synthetic tracks, which are flat, unlike the slopes of the turf course.

12 Mar 2010 6:46 PM
Slew

How sad...first race at Santa Anita on 3/13, Google Me broke down, 3 yr old by a Storm Cat Sire out of an Affirmed mare.  Tyler Kaplan, the 16 year old apprentice jocky was ok after his unfortunate 16th race.  Google Me was euthanized.  

14 Mar 2010 2:19 PM

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