Meanwhile, Hollywood Park is draining just fine

The folks at Hollywood Park would like the race fans to know that during all the rain this week, at a time when Santa Anita had been forced to cancel three cards because its Pro-Ride surface did not drain, they’re doing just fine in Inglewood.

“With the old dirt track we would have missed a couple of days,” Martin Panza, Hollypark’s vice president of racing, said. “It would have been sealed and closed. Cushion Track is draining perfectly — just as designed.”

Trainer John Sadler has also been mighty pleased.

“It’s been excellent,” he said. “I’ve been there the last two mornings and it’s been super, really holding up well.”

But it doesn’t surprise me.

Del Mar also reports its Polytrack is holding up well through all the rain, and Santa Anita might be too if not for the faulty material used when its Cushion Track was installed. Golden Gate up north, with its Tapeta Footings synthetic, has been draining.

These cancellations at Santa Anita are not because it’s a synthetic track, but that it’s a synthetic track that was laid down with bad materials.

That being said, just because Hollywood Park and Del Mar are draining well does not mean artificial tracks are a good thing. Far from it.

We continue to see catastrophic injury reports that exclude morning workouts, and of course that’s not even taking into account all the new types of injuries that have cropped up since synthetics hit Southern California.

And how about the jockeys? Respected Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas says we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the dangers these riders face when they are thrown onto an artificial track.

So yeah, let’s not blame synthetics for the mess we have at Santa Anita. That’s unfair. But at the same time, just because Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Golden Gate are all draining does not make them good for the sport.

Like former CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro finally admitted months ago, there should have been a lot more study put into these tracks before they were installed. We’re still learning about them, and these horses and jockeys should not be the guinea pigs.

23 thoughts on “Meanwhile, Hollywood Park is draining just fine

  1. Art,

    What really surprises me is the “in your face” attitude that both Hollywood Park and Del Mar seem to be thumbing at Santa Anita. This is what is really wrong with racing in California. Instead of offering help and suggestions, these tracks are acting like middle schoolers poking fun and laughing at one another when things go wrong. From “bimbo” ex-actresses and under qualified CHRB members California is displaying horrible leadership. It amazes me.

  2. Art, this business of not reporting all of the injuries, and especially those that are vanned off and later euthanized is a big problem. It is one of the ways they continue to lie to the public. Please keep calling them out. If you can give specific examples I would love to post the lies on the message boards.

    This is an all out war against those that manipulate the truth and try to tell us what’s best for us.

  3. Bob — Santa Anita WILL be going back to dirt. It’s a slam dunk. I’m not sure what Hollywood Park applies to its surface, but if you talk to most trainers in Southern California, men like Bob Baffert and Ron Ellis, they will tell you that Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track is very similar to a dirt surface. It’s the biggest reason I believe why speed, for the most part, holds up better at Hollywood Park than it does at Santa Anita or Del Mar.

  4. I hope Santa Anita decides to replace its surface with dirt.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t Hollywood Park apply some dirt to its cushion track surface?

  5. Andy — if SoCal racing officials wanted these synthetics to fly, they should have been upfront from the beginning, encouraging an independent study to chart injuries both in the mornings and afternoons. Anyone, on any side of an argument, can fix numbers to support their side. Happens in politics everyday.

  6. ING — As Bob Baffert told me at the Eclipse ceremony Monday night, everybody in horse racing hates each other. One track’s misery is another’s delight. Sad, but true. Instead of pulling on the same end of the rope for the good of the industry, the bickering and infighting continue. Sad truth is, if things don’t improve soon, the sport in California will fade away and there will be nothing to bicker about.

  7. You better believe it Art. Keenland/Polytrack is the mothership for this stuff and they never stop manipulating the data on fatalities and injuries.

    Thanks for educating the public and getting to the truth.

  8. “According to a report released by Dr. Rick Arthur, the California Horse Racing Boards equine medical director, the states racing industry was averaging 3.09 fatal breakdowns per 1,000 starters on dirt racetracks in the years prior to the installation of synthetic tracks. Arthur derived those figures from a study of 80,492 races run at Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Santa Anita over 29 racing meets that preceded the switch to synthetic tracks. In 52,266 races run over synthetic surfaces since the Shapiro-ordered mandate went into effect, the number of fatalities has fallen to 1.68 per
    1,000 starters. Thats a 45.6- percent decrease.”

    Per an article from

    Synthetics DO reduce racing fatalities. Unfortunately, exercise and morning fatality statistics were not properly kept prior to synthetics, so it will never be possible to make those comparisons. Synthetics are far from perfect, but, in my opinion, the 40 percent reduction in breakdowns warrant not giving up on them quite yet. These surfaces are new and can still be improved.

  9. When they release an independent study regarding synthetic surfaces, I’ll believe the numbers. They’re comparing new race tracks to old, rundown tracks that badly needed new bases and new dirt. Saratoga doesn’t seem to have a problem with its dirt track. Belmont doesn’t seem to have a problem with its dirt track. Ditto Churchill Downs and Gulfstream Park. And trainers at those tracks I’m sure are not seeing their horses suddenly develop new hind-end and soft-tissue injuries. That’s not even addressing the issue of what it’s like when jockeys are thrown to these synthetic surfaces and just stick. It’s like landing on concrete. A horseman more intune with horses than you or I, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, says we haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg regarding that aspect of synthetic surfaces. And what about the toxic debate? Why were gatemen wearing surgical masks at Santa Anita two years back? Don’t give up on them? Even former CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro admits now there should have been more study done on them before they were mandated. Plain and simple, they have not delivered as advertised. Santa Anita will be installing a new dirt surface in time for Oak Tree, you can take that to the bank, and I will applaud the decision once it’s announced. It’s time to stop using the horses and jockeys as guinea pigs.

  10. The synthetics need to go away for good! How can anybody be defending them unless they of course were responsible for this failed experiment?

  11. Rick — Or maybe do what officials should have done in the first place — put it on a training track and iron out the bugs. Of course, then we’re not even considering possible harm to jockeys when they fall on them or any possible toxic problems. Hmmm. Perhaps all this should have been studied before they rushed to install them.

  12. Gulfstream Park does not have a problem with its dirt surface? Tell that to the owners of Grade 3 winner The Mailet, who broke down so horrifically during a January 22 dirt work that she had to be destroyed due to her leg injuries. And tell it also to the owners of Honest Wildcat, who broke down at Aqueduct on January 23 and was euthanized, but only after sending former SoCal jockey Richard Migliore to the hospital with a concussion after he crashed hard to the dirt.

    Pro-Ride at Santa Anita IS saving lives. If you are so gung-ho against them, let’s see you produce a list of the many deaths they have supposedly caused, and which are supposedly being hidden from the public. A good journalist could do that, right? Then be sure to quantify these deaths against the thousands and thousands of works (and races) that have been conducted at Santa Anita before last week’s drainage issues surfaced during the worst rainstorms the area has seen in at least a year.

    If Santa Anita returns to the dirt highway, it will be a tremendous step backwards for all athletes — human and equine — involved in horse racing. And hard for the general public to swallow the “we believe in safety first” mantra when that now-rusty horse ambulance gets back into full use on a regular basis.

  13. Horse Chestnut — Please refer me to the blog or one of my columns where I wrote synthetics caused horses to break down. Horses are going to break down on any surface. Unfortunately, it’s the nature of the sport. All that weight on those spindly legs. It’s going to happen, like it or not. The only way it’s not going to happen is if you shut down the sport. My dislike for synthetics, which was reached after talking to many trainers, owners, jockeys, et al the past three years stems from the fact they have not turned out as advertised. How about all the new injuries that are cropping up now to hind ends and the soft tissue injuries? Like I have written many times, when I see an independent study released that includes BOTH morning workouts and afternoon races, then I will believe they have dramatically reduced catastrophic injuries. The burden of truth is on the pro-synthetic people, not me. I wasn’t the one making claims they were going to be the cure-all of the sport.

  14. Art:
    Synthetics have been around for decades worldwide. Spare us the hysteria about “toxic effects” and “unknown consequences”. The pro-dirt argument is being blindly supported by the exact same breeding/short term gain power base that has driven the sport into the ground. This will further marginalize US horse racing globally, reduce demand for our top stallions, reduce overall breeding revenue, and further diminish the sport. Sad truth is the “rich power base” will just become “less rich”, while the average mom and pop operation will end up bankrupt. To borrow your line, Art, the burden of proof is on the pro-dirt crowd to explain why the universal laws of economics do not apply to the US horse racing industry!

  15. Horse Chestnut and RonM:

    You know who’s saving lives? Saratoga is saving lives with their quality dirt surface. How did Del Mar (death Mar) do last season? Spare us the whining and the guilt trip. We’ve already been on a bad ride with this Poly Misery.

    We have too groups of people that support this stuff they are the Elites who love to tell us what’s good for us and the misinformed and ignorant people who believe them.

    You can’t make chicken soup out of chicken s**t!LOL

  16. Chalkbuster:

    The Sheiks in Dubai were the last suckers in the world with deep pockets. Now they’re having financial troubles. We’ll see how they like it in a couple of years. Why is it that you feel they have some special intellectual quality that makes them smarter than the rest of us?

  17. There has been no fake racetrack surface installed in So. Ca. that has come close to what was advertised. Hollywood has come closest but they have had their problems with holes in the surface, but has done better since they gave up on recommended refurbishment and just put new dirt on top, making it play more like dirt.
    There are so many arguments against them,and Ron Charles has tried two times without success at Santa Anita.
    Really, would you go for strke three and try again if you were in his shoes?
    We know that a properly maintained dirt surface with a proper base is SAFE! We have a hundred years of data and experience.Horses ran twice as many races years ago over them in their careers as they do today.
    Stop the foolishness and give us back our game, until “improvements” are proven.

    Thanks, rwwupl

  18. Ron — the burden of proof is on pro-synthetic folks who sold these tracks as saviors. Hysteria? Ask the guys who worked the Santa Anita gate in 2007-08 about that. I don’t think they were wearing surgical masks because it was Haloween. And tell you what — you get on a horse over synthetics, get dumped and then report back to me about how safe it was. A far better horseman than you or I — Wayne Lukas — has very deep concerns about jockeys’ safety on these tracks. I don’t make this stuff up.

  19. Racingfan84: You’re right, Dick Mandella is an excellent horseman. But answer this for me — why, when they first went to synthetics, about 70 percent of the trainers were in favor of them, and now about 70-80 percent are against them? Many of whom, men like Bob Baffert and John Shirreffs, have been very successful on artificial tracks. You don’t think that’s a telling development?

  20. Art: I definitely understand why some oppose synthetics- they’ve had their problems. It’s just my opinion that they’ve performed pretty well in regards to breakdowns, and that some of their shortcomings (anti-speed bias, issues with drainage, etc) can be remediated. You’re right- ideally these surfaces would have been tested and perfected before being installed.

    In my opinion, both camps in this argument are guilty of hyperbole. Clearly, synthetics have not lived up to many of the promises made. On the other hand, the argument that synthetics “make great horses average, and average horses great” is flat out wrong.

    Even though I support synthetics, I really hope Santa Anita’s new dirt surface performs well. At the end of the day, we all want this sport improved as much as possible.

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