By Dan Ross
Santa Anita will re-open its main track Thursday morning for regular training after racetrack surface expert Mick Peterson performed his own analysis of the track Wednesday afternoon and gave it the green-light. The races will similarly go ahead as scheduled, both on the turf and dirt.
According to the racing office, starting Friday the first 10 minutes after the 1st and 2nd renovation breaks will be reserved for workouts, mirroring a safety change instituted in 2017 by Del Mar to tackle catastrophic fatalities.
The track was originally scheduled to re-open Wednesday morning, but track management decided to keep it closed another morning in order to perform further “soil analysis,” and to allow Peterson, director of the University of Kentucky’s Ag Equine Program, time to test the surface consistency using a ground penetrating radar.
This maintenance was conducted to help determine a possible cause for the 19 horses who have been fatally injured at Santa Anita since Dec. 26—six on the dirt during racing, five on the turf during racing and another eight during morning training. The overall total is higher than in comparable periods over the last three years.
The ground penetrating radar, said Peterson, is the best technology for evaluating at once the moisture, composition and cushion depth of the track. Peterson flew out to Los Angeles from Kentucky this morning. “What I found was a bunch of really boring parallel lines,” he said, meaning that the track was consistent throughout. Peterson said that he will go over the track again, probably after racing, with the radar, which he had shipped via two crates from Kentucky.
The “real challenge,” said Peterson, will be to develop a set of maintenance protocols that ensure the surface is “safe to race and train on.” Some of those protocols could come about through better diagnostic tools, like moisture sensors which are attached to the harrows—a technology that is currently under development. “It’s not that I found anything,” said Peterson. “But I’ve got to give Santa Anita a lot of credit for being proactive.”
Santa Anita’s dirt track—which consists of a hard base, the pad and the cushion—has been closed for training since 9 a.m. Monday morning. Since then, track superintendent Andy LaRocco and his crew reportedly peeled back about five inches of the track’s pad and cushion to examine the base.
Peterson told the TDN Tuesday that the work LaRocco and his crew conducted the past few days falls into two main categories. The first was to conduct a visual inspection of the surface and the base. The second, Peterson said, consisted of thoroughly mixing the sand, clay and silt that make up the track surface. Because of the 11 ½ inches of rain that Santa Anita has recently taken, Peterson said that the finer particles of silt and clay could have washed to the inside of the track, leaving the larger, coarser particles of sand accumulated nearer the outside of the track.
As part of a broader maintenance program at Santa Anita, the surface moisture content is routinely monitored, said Peterson, and samples of the track are taken monthly and sent for analysis at a laboratory in Kentucky. The samples are tested to determine the exact combination of sand, silt and clay. As for how the samples are taken, there are two main protocols. Ordinarily, four samples are taken at the quarter poles. After periods of rain, a much broader set of samples are taken, to better understand the track consistency both near the rail and further out.
The first broader set of samples taken of the Santa Anita track since the rains are currently at the laboratory in Kentucky, where they’re undergoing a particle size analysis, and a bulk density measurement, “to make sure [the cushion will] set up on the pad correctly,” said Peterson. The results are expected back Thursday. A second set of samples will also be taken Thursday.