Official wishes Stronach had stood up to CHRB

A Southland racing official who didn’t want to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak on the subject, told me today he wished Frank Stronach, chairman of Santa Anita’s parent company Magna Entertainment Corp., had stood up to Richard Shapiro and other members of the California Horse Racing Board when the ruling body mandated synthetic surfaces for all California tracks in May 2006.

“It kind of surprised me that he didn’t stand up to them,” the official said. “I mean, what were they going to do — close down Santa Anita? Tracks like Del Mar, they needed to do something, and Hollywood Park just made the politically correct move. But I really wish Stronach had said no to them.”

Artificial surfaces are in the news again this week after Rachel Alexandra’s co-owner, Jess Jackson, told racing writers during a national teleconference this week that he will not send the talented 3-year-old filly to the Breeders’ Cup this fall at Santa Anita because he disdains what he calls “plastic” tracks.

“I have a very strong dislike for plastic surfaces and I don’t think she should be exposed to that,” Jackson said.

Jackson, who also campaigned two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, still rues his decision to run the colt in last year’s Breeders’ Cup. The son of Smart Strike made a bold move turning for home while extremely wide, took the leald and then flattened out through the stretch and finished fourth.

23 thoughts on “Official wishes Stronach had stood up to CHRB

  1. The CHRB in those days did not care what the public thought and believed that it had all knowledge and above reproach. I believe that had Magna (Stronach) pushed back, the CHRB would have imposed strong penalties on the company, race tracks and ADW. Now, I think the train has left the station and fake dirt will be the norm for years to come.

  2. Good stuff Art. The Santa Anita Pro Ride is Hocus Pocus Junk in my opinion. In a recent poll 65% of regular Horseplayers said they hated it(all synthetic surfaces).

    I believe Ron Charles is to blame for the decision. From everything I have read they could have went back to dirt if they wanted to but Stronach left the final decision to Ron Charles.

    We have to realize that TVG and HRTV have to promote it because Santa Anita, Hollywood, and Del Mar are their main tracks. In spite of all the propoganda from these outfits most Horseplayers dislike synthetic surfaces. It would be nice to have a Racing network with objective reporting.

    Pro Ride is fake turf and not fake dirt. If the synthetic material was green everyone would understand. All the European turf runners will come and win. American racing is losing it’s identity.

  3. Good job Art,

    What is the excuse for not lifting the mandate?

    The synthetic tracks have not helped California racing and a good case can be made that they are a failure and are among the many reasons why California racing is in decline.

    There is no one else to blame except the CHRB and the racing managers.

    When do we get new leadership in California?

  4. Greg,
    I disagree … if Santa Anita had resisted, I don’t think the CHRB would have done a thing. And here’s a prediction for you — I don’t think synthetics will exist in California within five years. I think Santa Anita will go back to dirt under new ownership and it will be only a matter of time before Del Mar does the same. Del Mar needed a new base more than anything else, and now that they have that, if they put in a quality dirt surface they will not have the breakdowns that troubled the track for many summers. That’s my opinion.

  5. Rwwupl,
    The mandate has been relaxed. If race track management goes before the board and outlines what they want to do and why, I think the CHRB would OK a dirt track. There has been too much negative publicity concerning these things for them not to OK it.

  6. Andrew, here’s a quote from Jess Jackson concerning the Europeans and the Breeders’ Cup: “We’re giving the Europeans a great chance to beat American horses by racing on (synthetics).” That about says it all. Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface plays like a turf course, and Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track plays more like a conventional dirt track. Del Mar’s Polytrack is probably a combination between the two, but I hate playing speed on that surface more than at Santa Anita.

  7. Dirt is a natural, dirt is made from evolution and time or Dirt is made by God, however how one looks at it, Horses are the same!

    They must run on a natural track.

    Man will never change it however how hard he tries.

    The CHRB and the tracks management tried to play God!

    Now look at the saturation, they have almost destroyed horse racing in Californian and are too stupid to realize it.

  8. Art,

    I disagree. I was at the CHRB meeting at HollyPark when it was approved. I was told by a senior CHRB staffer not to fight it. The Board was going to vote for it regardless of what the public (tracks, horsement, owners, players) thought or wanted. As long as Shapiro was CHRB Chairman, the fake dirt was going to stay because he believed so strongly in it. And Marie Moretti was going to keep fake dirt “come hell or high water.”

    The real test of the willingness of the current CHRB Board to enforce fake dirt will be the expansion of Pleasanton to a “real track” and if they will have to spend the millions (that they don’t have) the fake dirt. Today, I believe this Board will approve the fairs to have real dirt as an economic issue.

  9. Greg,
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t the CHRB already come out and said they are willing to relax the mandate on a case by case basis? So I think you’re right, Pleasanton will get that dirt track. What I don’t understand, and what many horsemen don’t understand, is what made Richard Shapiro such an authority on track surfaces? If Santa Anita had gone to the CHRB and told them we really don’t want to install a synthetic track and gave valid reasons why, what possible sanctions could the CHRB have imposed on the track? What are they going to do, refuse to grant race dates to one of the best race tracks in America? Actually, I have my own theory on this whole synthetic debacle after talking to many folks in the industry, but unless I ever get people to go on the record, I won’t be able to write a thing about it.

  10. Lester,
    I doubt you’ll ever hear anyone on the CHRB admit that the synthetics were a mistake. But having said that, I don’t for a minute place all the blame on former chairman Richard Shapiro. The only other commissioner who raised a hint of dissent on the subject was Jerry Moss. The rest followed behind Shapiro like sheep.

  11. Richard Shapiro , The idiot who lost his money to Bernie Madoff, the moron who was caught keying someones car…..this is the fool who led to the demise of california horse racing and you all just followed him off the cliff

  12. While at lunch today, I had a thought that I would like to propose to Jess Jackson, “what is dirt?” I mean is the dirt at Saratoga, Belmont, Gulfstream, Colonial Downs, Calder, Sam Houston, Lone Star the same as the sand base at Churchill? Everybody knows the dirt course at Churchill is unique. (And what about Zia Park with its red “dirt?”) Even here in SoCal, all five (including Los Al) tracks had different compositions of “dirt” on their main tracks. The best proof of the differences in dirt tracks is how they take the rain and how the water leaves the “dirt” in the transition from muddy/sloppy to fast. If a main track was 100% “dirr,” it would be hard and fast just like a baseball diamond or any old-fashioned high school running track (those that remain dirt).

  13. Richard Shapiro all by himself ruined the best racing circuit in the country by mandating synthetics, what an idiot

  14. “5 years no more synthetics in CA” You might be right because HP is closing, there is as of now no plan what to do after that happens. As of now there are about 30 bids in on SA, 2/3 are for by non racing interests, and from what I have heard the offers are in excess of 100MM higher now from the highest racing bid to non racing. If SA goes and HP goes, GM Harper has already implied that DM can’t carry the state. So you might be right, but for different reasons than you think!!!

  15. Pete,
    I don’t see Santa Anita going anywhere. Yeah, Hollywood Park is year to year, but we’ll still have Santa Anita. Bottom line — this state needs to get some quality leadership and fast or it won’t matter what happens with Santa Anita. A good start would be eliminating all the people on the CHRB who have conflicts of interest. Is it possible to find enough quality people who’d know the sport and know what needs to be done without having a conflict? Not sure, but heck, at this point, it’s hard to imagine things getting any worse.

  16. Seems to me that there may have been some FINDER’s FEES
    they are customary in multi-million dollar deals.
    “Follow the Money” was the Watergate solution.
    LK Shapiro begat Marvin Shapiro
    Marvin Shapiro begat Richard
    it is almost BIBLICAL
    Follow the MONEY

  17. One thing is certain, artificial surfaces completely destroyed the racing product in SoCal. Once the greatest racing circuit, now a total joke. Congratulations to all responsible on a job well done.

  18. I am like thousands of racing fans who have reduced or eliminated Southern California from their wagering. Puppets for the CHRB or the tracks can’t even begin to defend this crap.

  19. Horses usually broke down on tracks because they either took a bad step or more likely, these horses were too sore or physically unable to run properly on dirt or any other surface. If you run hurt horses on any track, they will break down. With that said, I detest the unnatural “garbage” synthetic tracks and a return to natural surfaces is inevitable.

  20. Mike, I agree wholeheartedly. The synthetics were an answer to the tragic breakdown of Barbaro. But as you state, when a horse takes a bad step or is not physically sound, doesn’t matter what the surface.

  21. Freddy,
    Sorry to hear that, but I can’t blame you. Hopefully dirt will return in the next few years and you’ll be back — that is, if California racing has not died by then.

  22. wrong people in the wrong positions. period. they hire within, right last names, buddyism, cronyism, and nepotism. there is no real competent outsider other than the local “celebrities” to put on the “board.” none of them did proper due diligence, nor were trained in research, hence they all followed along like lemmings/sheep including that Arthur guy.

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