Can Stronach be convinced to try a third synthetic?

Frank Stronach, chairman of Santa Anita’s parent company Magna Entertainment Corp., is due in town this weekend to meet with Southern California horsemen about a number of subjects, the biggest being the track’s future racing surface.

Track president Ron Charles announced Jan. 18 that Santa Anita will remove its current Pro-Ride surface at the end of the current meet and go a different route. At the time, Charles said track management was seriously considering the installation of a traditional dirt surface. It’s been widely speculated since that a dirt track was just a formality, that Santa Anita would be announcing its plans any day.

But days have turned to weeks, and it’s now been more than a month since the initial announcement and still no further word from Santa Anita.

On Jan. 31, Charles told me outside the Santa Anita winner’s circle that the announcement was being delayed because of Magna’s bankruptcy proceedings, that nothing could be officially announced until those were finalized.

On Feb. 6, the day Santa Anita was forced to cancel racing for a fourth time this season and 15th in the past three years when the track would not drain following heavy rain, Santa Anita GM George Haines told me he had no update on when an announcement would be made.

“I’m not sure of (Stronach’s) schedule,” Haines said.

Even though Stronach told me in an exclusive interview on the eve of his scheduled Southland arrival tonight that he won’t install a third synthetic at Santa Anita, one Southern California racing official familiar with the goings on at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar is convinced the pro-synthetic folks are trying to persuade Stronach to continue to support synthetics.

“It’s game on … (pro-synthetic officials) are pressing as hard as they can for synthetics,” said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic and the fact a final decision has not been announced. “They are doing everything they possibly can to lobby Frank to go (synthetics), that (Santa Anita) needs to stay the course here. And I know one of the (arguing points) is the cost.

“It will be a miracle if (Santa Anita) gets back to dirt. They’re all in to keep it synthetic.”

However, Stronach sounded a very different tone on Thursday.

“The synthetic surface, the way they are, I’ve never liked them,” he said.

He went on to say he is considering a sandy, dirt surface that includes a small amount of fiber but is basically a natural track that is “very safe.”

Stronach said he is keeping an open mind, but when asked if it was a safe bet to assume he was leaning toward the sandy surface, he said: “It’s a safe bet to say I will go through all the hoops to make sure we got the right surface.”

So perhaps this move to dirt is not a slam dunk after all.

Who will win out? Is Stronach so fed up with synthetics that nothing can sell him on installing a third edition, or will the pro-synthetic crowd influence him to give it another try “for the good of the industry?”

We can only hope that going through all the hoops to choose the right surface doesn’t turn out to be an exercise in disaster like Santa Anita’s Cushion Track and Pro-Ride surfaces.

I was one who believed this was a slam dunk. I still think the track will be more conventional than synthetic, but I’m not as sure as I was one week ago.

16 thoughts on “Can Stronach be convinced to try a third synthetic?

  1. This is beginning to sound more and more like a bad reality show on T.V. Santa Anita has the chance to start over and perhaps save the track but now they are looking at what seems to be another experimental surface? Good God!

  2. Waiting to make an announcements put synthetic back on the table. Ron Charles and Stronach are the poster boys for bad leadership in my opinion.

    I haven’t been to Santa Anita since they went to the junk and if they stay with it they can shove it. I will never go back.

    Synthetic surfaces alienate the hardcore base of Horseplayers. Why would you want to alienate your best customers?

  3. Good God is right.

    I have been loyal to So.Ca. racing for forty years,if they go for anything but traditional dirt for another surface,I have had enough.

    It would be “strike Three” they are out!…and I am gone.

  4. The surface in place now is safe and consistent, as supported by Equibase data. There is no need to interfere with it. If they are replacing it due to cancellations, it would be counter-productive to install an inferior wet-weather surface like dirt.

    Handle numbers are up at all North American tracks that switched from dirt to synthetic, so gamblers have not abandoned betting on them.

  5. If they choose another synthetic track Stronach deserves to go bankrupt. What an idiot. PLEASE go back to dirt. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DIRT DIRT DIRT

  6. So Cal racing is a right handed prize fighter with a broken right hand, one eye swollen shut and the other closing fast. Yes, you’ve heard the end of So Cal racing for years but never has it been more evident that we do not have ANYONE that can save this mess. The thoroughbred breed has been medicated and lightly raced to produce nothing but one year wonders and breeders at age 3 or 4. How long did we dealt with medication infractions? Milkshakes? Cheating trainers and vets in general? How long has the CHRB been run by numbskulls that have no backbone, no authority, and no clue? Hollywood is on edge waiting to be extinct. Former CHRB head Richard Shapiro mandated man made surfaces blindly, ruined So Cal racing, and went out by keying Jammers car AND HE WAS CAUGHT ON TAPE DOING IT! Rain kills the “ALL WEATHER SURFACE,”, heat made it over 120 degrees and stinky, does anyone have a clue? Churchill and Aqueduct have horrible weather and they manage to run on good ‘ol dirt! Breakdowns are going to happen. You have unfit horses getting joints juiced so they’ll run and eventually they give. Some will take a “bad step,” some just arent bred to be healthy athletes. When these surfaces were put in, I was told we’d have full fields, the horses bounce back quicker, blah blah blah. When we average LESS THAN 50 horses for an 8 race card, where are they all? Our Kentucky Derby hopefuls have to go out of state to test dirt for the KY Derby robbing us of some of the best racing at the best time of year for it. We dont get shippers in because owners dont want to run on the surfaces. Now Stronach is coming in to try a new “sand” track. Hell, we have one of those, its that small ring inside the grass track at Santa Anita. We had that for years! When training couldnt go on the main, they trained on the sandy training track. Too many Indians and not enough Chiefs. I couldnt even roll through the plant 10 times to get 10 Beer buckets on giveaway day because they cancelled racing due to rain. I have an idea. DO NOT GIVE THOSE BUCKETS AWAY. Keep them. When the next rain comes, head over to Home Depot off the 10 fwy, pick up 150 Day laborers, give them the buckets, and have them bail the water off the track so we can race a day or two later! Everybody get out your pen and paper and write 1,000 times, “I WILL NOT BET ON 6 HORSE FIELDS.” Meanwhile the folks at Los Alamitos just laugh. They can run $2,000 donkeys on dirt safely Thursday through Sunday all year long. LOL. Makes you wonder.

  7. Jerry E are you kidding. Read the CHRB annual report on fatalities. Los Alamitos had 67 fatalities, the most of any California track by a mile.

  8. Maybe people like Jerry E don’t care how many horses die so he can handicap better (or so he thinks). I also read the article that told how many horses died at Los Al. I wouldn’t mind a dirt track, if it was as safe as the Pro-Ride seems to be. The only problem I see with the Pro-Ride is the drainage. Why does Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track drain so well? Fix the drainage and there won’t be a problem.

  9. Maybe people like Jerry E don’t care how many horses die so he can handicap better (or so he thinks). I also read the article that told how many horses died at Los Al. I wouldn’t mind a dirt track, if it was as safe as the Pro-Ride seems to be. The only problem I see with the Pro-Ride is the drainage. Why does Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track drain so well? Fix the drainage and there won’t be a problem.

  10. Jr, I don’t read anything the CHRB puts out. They have a track record worth garbage and their officials have a track record of vandalism.

    Comet, I have averaged $150,000 through the windows yearly up until 2 years ago (proof of that is here in Art’s archives), my handicapping has never been a problem. Horses will break down on any surface, that’s not my fault.

    Just so you know, I have held horses heads in my hands while they’ve been put down on the track. Years of working with these animals and seeing a personal favorite break down kills you but don’t throw “people like Jerry E” at me, you have no idea what I know, do, or have done. You drink the synthetic Kool Aid and head to the track on its last days in So Cal like so many did at Bay Meadows and many more will at Hwd soon enough. 6 horse fields will never see a dime of my money. Maybe when they figure it out, horse players will come back to the windows.

  11. Just to be fair, I went back to look over the death report. Synthetic tracks were mandated in 2007. 2007-08 and 2008-09 were the two highest years of fatalities with 625, more than ANY other 2 year period in history. Now, Los Al has had 67 RACING fatalities and a total of 104 deaths from June 08- June 09. THEY RACE CHEAP BROKEN DOWN HORSES YEAR ROUND. Add up the tbred deaths for year round numbers and they are on par with Los Al’s dirt. DM 12, HWD 51, SA 41. 104 Los Al year round with cheap stock to 104 synthetic tracks year round with stakes, handicaps, allowance as their majority run.

    Dr Arthur tried to blame the closure of BM and more starts on GG Tapeta for the No Cal increase to 44 fatalities but they still died on a synthetic surface. Heres a piece of an article in Sign on San Diego,

    “The intent of the synthetic mandate was to reduce horse fatalities. Data released by the board in its annual report show that the number of deaths on synthetic tracks from July 2008 through June 2009 was 117, up from 107 the previous year, the first year of the track mandate.” I didnt make this up, its from the report you told me to believe in.

  12. I know Frank Stronach. I own horses with him and his son. Frank is a lot of things but the horses come first. The expense is never spared when it comes to the health of the horse. His proposal to go to this sandy loam track intrigues me. The easy decision would be to go to dirt. But, some of these recent fatality reports do suggest that these synthetics are safer. So what does a guy do? What does southern California have to lose? If it works it is brilliant. If it doesn’t, your no worse than where you are today. Southern California has one thing going for it…..Pick 6 pools period. You have been paralyzed with short fields long before the synthetic mandate. I say applaud Frank for thinking outside the box. If this stuff works it could be the exact spark for horse recruitment and the resurrection of Cal breeding that is needed. Again, there is only one way from here. Up, cant get any lower.

  13. Jake, what is it that people like yourself don’t understand about comparing the last (worst) three years of dirt with decades old bases to new synthetic surfaces with new synthetic material and new bases? Why is it that the statistics from 2002 to 2004 are so much better? Does that prove that dirt is safer when the bases are newer?

    Honestly, people like yourself who can’t figure out that they’re being taken for a ride are incredible.

    What don’t you understand about this stuff?

    Please explain and then tell me how smart you and Mr. Stronach are again!


    From post #15 on Pace Advantage

    From Steven Crist’s DRF article regarding Frank’s new mystery surface, “In 2008, the last year for which the Jockey Club has collected statistics, there were exactly 62 Thoroughbred races in Austria, and there are 12 days of racing scheduled for Ebreichsdorf this year. Nor is it particularly reassuring that the surface is otherwise being used only for show jumping.——————————————————————————-

    How many misguided decisions are we going to make? It may be too late already. California is the laughing stock of the nation.

    Del Mar installed a reverse osmosis watering system to water the Polytrack while humans and horses drink tap water. Does anyone remember the Looney Toons cartoon series? This is the California edition!

    All you can do is laugh and then let the Looney Toons take us off a cliff. LOL

  15. So Frankie flys all the way out to California for that? To try to remove a lot of the Gov’t involvement? To try to run in competition with other tracks? LOL. This guy is nuttier than the rest of them. This is what Cali was pinning its hopes on? The CHRB is lost, this guy is lost, if I were a trainer or owner in SoCal, Id move my horses to Florida. This is ridiculous and getting better by the day. Did Frankie really come out here to try to insist on letting him run his “own store” and then he will replace the track. Hey Frankie, leave the track as it is and I hope to see a BUNCH of trainers leave it too! SO long So Cal racing.

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