By T. D. Thornton
On the day before racing at Santa Anita is scheduled to resume Friday with five turf races following an 11-day break that had been planned before recent grass-course drainage issues arose, staffers with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) deemed the turf to be ready to handle horses.
The last two dates that Santa Anita had raced, Apr. 8 and 9, a total of five turf races had to be swapped from the “firm” grass course to the “fast” main dirt track because of slippage problems on the far turn.
That Apr. 8 card was the meet's premier race date, featuring the GI Santa Anita Derby and its undercard stakes. But when Midnight Jostar (Midnight Lute) lost his footing and fell at the top of the stretch, unseating jockey Kent Desormeaux, one remaining late-card Grade III stakes and two allowance races got transferred to the main track.
The trouble spot was then aerated overnight and jockeys walked the course with track management on Sunday, Apr. 9. They rode four races over the “firm” course, but continued complaints slipping and bobbling necessitated the removal of two later races from the course.
Scott Chaney, the CHRB's executive director, said Apr. 20 both the fallen horse and jockey ended up being “perfectly fine” and that the removal of turf racing was “completely the right call” by track management.
But Chaney did add that from a standpoint of inconvenience, “it certainly wasn't a good look for [Santa Anita] and it was bad for the wagering public.” He termed the mid-card need to remove races from the turf on a cloudless, non-raining day to be “less than ideal, and frankly Santa Anita lost a fair amount of money because of it.”
Chaney continued: “The current explanation is that it was wet, therefore slippery, [and] that water was not draining well enough through the turf course. My understanding is that that's partly because they've changed the composition because of the inordinate amount of rain. So it can take more rain, but it doesn't drain quite as well.
“There was no racing this week. We've been getting daily reports from our safety stewards on the grounds there about the measures they've taken in terms of aeration and [the addition] a substance that promotes drainage on the turf course,” Chaney said. “I know they worked three horses [Wednesday] morning [and everybody] seemed happy with how that was supposed to go. ”
CHRB equine medical director Jeff Blea concurred with Chaney.
“It's frustrating for those owners. It's frustrating for the betting public, and those trainers as well. I heard a lot of those frustrations,” Blea said. “But, as Scott said, there were some issues with horses slipping on one area of the racetrack around that turn. The stewards decided, and I think they made a good decision, in the safety of the horses and riders, to take it off the turf.
“I know Santa Anita was affected paramountly with the loss of wagering,” Blea said. “[But] they've gone through, they've evaluated and looked at what the problem was [and concluded] that the turf was back to normal and safe.”