Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Re-Worked Cushion Track Ready for Santa Anita's Opening Day

Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California will open for its winter race meet today. The track opened its one-mile oval main track for training on Saturday, after having been closed for additional repairs since December 3rd. Workers labored around the clock to adjust the new synthetic surface. Rainy weather complicated repairs.

Cushion Track, installed over the summer at a cost of more than $10 million, is comprised of silica sand mixed with synthetic fibers, elastic fiber and shredded rubber. The material is coated with a blend of wax.

“Our original Cushion Track surface simply was not draining properly,” said Santa Anita President Ron Charles. “Even though it’s not draining to specifications, it has improved and we’re hoping that will remain so. This project has taken longer than we originally intended and we know this has inconvenienced everyone, but the main thing is that we had to address these issues now, in advance of the winter rains that we do expect."

The Cushion Track surface was well-received by jockeys, trainers and horsemen during the recent Oak Tree meet, which concluded on November 4. Cushion Track proved that it was a sound and consistent surface, after withstanding summer temperatures that at times exceeded 100 degrees.

However, due to continued concerns about drainage, Santa Anita has solicited numerous track surface and soil preparation specialists, who have conducted a number of maintenance programs on the main track and water tests in the seven furlong chute. These experts all agreed that it would be advisable to conduct further investigative efforts on the Cushion Track and its drainage foundation before the Santa Anita meet begins today.

Although the same major components—silica sand, synthetic fibers, elastic fiber and granulated rubber and wax are present in every Cushion Track surface, the combination of these elements is custom designed to meet the weather conditions at each track. So too is the size, porosity and composition of the underlying rock layers that cover the miles of drainage pipes that have been installed.

In addition to remixing the Cushion Track material, workmen had to address the two-inch thick blacktop underpinning of the track as well. “Due to the fact we had far too much fine sand in the original mixture, a lot of that material had coated and effectively sealed the blacktop, which is designed to be porous. It was quite a job, but we’ve got the blacktop cleaned and draining well,” said Charles.

Horsemen based at Santa Anita have had to work their stock either on Santa Anita’s six-furlong dirt training track, or ship across Los Angeles to Inglewood to use Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track.

"Santa Anita has now invested over $11 million to provide a safe racing surface,” Charles added. “We are looking to Cushion Track to provide the ultimate answer to this problem.”

The traditional opening day feature is the Grade I Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs; the race attracted a full field of 14. Ninety-nine horses are entered in races at the beautiful racecourse today.

Santa Anita will host the 2008 Breeders Cup on Friday and Saturday, October 24 and 25, 2008. It will be the first Breeders Cup run on an artificial surface instead aof dirt.

Note: Information for this post was supplied by Santa Anita as part of Hoofcare and Lameness Journal's ongoing efforts to report on new surfaces used for equestrian sports and racing and how they may impact equine safety and soundness.