Santa Anita cancels nine-race card

Well, perhaps it’s fitting that this is the weekend Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach picked to visit the Southland. He gets to witness first-hand the track’s fifth cancellation of the year and 16th dating back to 2008.

This time it’s the Grade 3 Sham Stakes, one of the important races of the meet for 3-year-olds with Kentucky Derby aspirations, that takes the hit. Although there is no official word yet from track officials, they’ll probably re-card it next weekend, putting these horses a week behind in preparing for the Triple Crown series.

Santa Anita needs to do the right thing, which is install a new dirt surface when the Pro-Ride is torn out at the end of the meet. They need something that is tried and tested and is 120 percent certain to work. If management is CERTAIN this new sandy, dirt track that Stronach advocates will work, fine, but how can they know when it’s been used only for show jumping, one training track in Spain and Stronach’s track in Austria that races less than two weeks a year?

There’s a very good chance we’re going to lose Lookin At Lucky to Oaklawn Park. It appears trainer Bob Baffert is close to taking the Derby favorite to the Rebel Stakes and then leave him there for the Arkansas Derby on April 10. It’s a sad commentary that trainers now take their top 3-year-olds to other venues to prepare for this country’s most popular horse race.

It’s time Santa Anita stopped all the games and the pro-synthetic folks ceased with all their numbers and statistics that are colored to fit their arguments. Ladies and gentlemen, California horse racing used to be the model for the sport. It’s getting to the point where it’s now the laughing stock of the rest of the industry.

These are sad, sad times for anyone who truly loves this game.

36 thoughts on “Santa Anita cancels nine-race card

  1. Blah Blah Blah…Art do you have the ability to write about anything other than racetrack surfaces? Do a follow up story on Rene Douglas, or how about who is the bad guy in the IEAH-Lanzman debacle?, or the dancing girls at Sirona’s on Sunshine Millions Day? Thanks in advance on behalf of your readers.

  2. Patrick … when Santa Anita has to close down again and it affects the whole industry, you’re darn right I’m going to write about it. The IEAH-Lanzman issue affects those two parties, nobody else. The debate on synthetics is a hot-topic issue right now, particularly in California, and it affects the whole sport. Bettors don’t like synthetics. Handle is down and purses continue to dwindle because of a loss of revenue. The sport is in big, big trouble. Santa Anita has lost two big drawing cards — Rachel Alexandra in the Breeders’ Cup and Quality Road for the Big ‘Cap — because many owners/trainers don’t want to run on Pro-Ride. What don’t you get about all this? Tell you what, I’ll give you a pen and a notebook and you go write about Sirona’s. You go write about IEAH and Lanzman. I’ll continue to tackle the issues that I think are important to a sport that I love.

  3. Art writes for the Pasadena newspaper. Patrick, why don’t u complain to the Daily Racing Form or a national racing publication?

  4. Art:
    People are certainly laughing at how racing fatalities have dropped 40% per 1,000 starts since synthetics have been put in! Have just a bit of intellectual integrity, please. Why is Santa Anita cancelling due to synthetics but Turf Paradise cancelling is not due to dirt? How many days has the Tapeta in San Fran been wiped out? Let’s face it, no matter how obvious the objective facts are, the dirt “regressives” will always find a reason to believe otherwise.

  5. Ron, what is that people like you dont get about this. Honestly what does it take for guys like you to pull your head out?

    How can you compare the last three (worst)years of dirt with decades old bases to new synthetic surfaces with new bases?

    Why don’t we use 2002-2004 statistics when the dirt base was newer and say that dirt is much safer?

    Are people like yourself that out of touch that you buy into the infomercial?

    “Regressives” like yourself are so smart it’s embarrassing. LOL

  6. Ron: Do me a favor and put your “intellectual” skills to good use and tell me this — why is it that 70 percent of the horsemen were in favor of synthetics when they were first put in and now 70 percent are against them, even guys like John Sadler, John Shirreffs, Bob Baffert and Bruce Headley who have been successful with them? Because beneath those misleading CHRB stats are stories of all sorts of new injuries that have cropped up since synthetics arrived. Perhaps you can tap into your “intellectual” skills and tell me why, when the pro-synthetic folks recite their “statistics,” they conveniently leave out the fact that these synthetics all had the benefit of new bases and increased race-day scrutiny that have helped save many horses’ lives? If California racing officials had put half of the money they poured into synthetics into improving the traditional dirt surfaces that no doubt needed an upgrade, well, we wouldn’t be having this discussion today.

  7. Art how about the 184 horses at Los Al that have broke down. I have had two horses I have owned and were claimed away from me perish at this track in the past 9 months.

    Why dont you do some homework like Bill Finley did in his recent ESPN piece.

    Synthetic tracks getting bad rap againEmail Print Comments 15 By Bill Finley
    Special to
    The headline above a story by a Brent Schrotenboer that ran in the Feb. 24 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune couldn’t have been any more damning toward California’s artificial racing surfaces. “Report: synthetic tracks haven’t slowed number of horse fatalities,” the headline read. There wasn’t much gray area here; anyone reading the headline no doubt came away with the conclusion that California’s mandated switch to synthetic surface has been an on-going disaster that has led to an increase in fatalities.

    The problem is, the report the paper referred to, an annual report issued by the California Horse Racing Board, makes it abundantly clear that the trouble is not with the state’s four synthetic surfaces, but with some of its remaining dirt tracks. If anything, the numbers coming out of the CHRB’s latest report make a strong case that the dirt surface at Los Alamitos, which is primarily a Quarter-Horse track, is unacceptably dangerous and should be torn out immediately and replaced with a safer, synthetic track.

    Whether the fault is with the writer of the story or the headline writer, which, in this case, would not be one and the same, this is a case of sloppy journalism. But that’s not necessarily a surprise. Synthetic surfaces have been widely and unfairly maligned in so many places for so long that perception and reality remain far, far apart.

    The story notes that there were more horse deaths, 645, over the last two years than during any other two-year period since the CHRB began keeping records on fatalities. That’s not wrong. But the story failed to examine what was behind the increase in deaths, and erroneously inferred that the inflated numbers were a result of the switch to synthetic tracks.

    To start with, there was only a modest increase in the amount of horse deaths in the two fiscal years running from June 2007 to June 2009. The CHRB annual reports from the two prior fiscal years list 618 deaths at the state’s racetracks. What accounted for 27 additional deaths? Los Alamitos.

    A staggering 184 horses suffered fatal injuries at Los Alamitos over the two-year period covered in recently released report. In the prior two-year period, 121 horses died at Los Alamitos. The increase in deaths was entirely the result of problems at Los Alamitos, which races over dirt. The synthetic tracks did just fine.

    The other culprit was Fairplex, also a dirt surface. Over the last two fiscal years, 31 horses died at Fairplex as compared to 22 during the prior two fiscal years.

    (It needs to be noted that not all the deaths recorded by the CHRB occurred during racing or training. For instance, a horse that dies of colic is included in the numbers).

    In fact, other studies done by the CHRB have shown that the rate of fatalities at the California tracks have gone down significantly due to the introduction of synthetic tracks. According to Rick Arthur, the CHRB’s medical director, California racing was averaging 3.05 deaths per 1,000 starts before synthetic tracks were put in, a number now down to 1.93 deaths per 1,000 starters.

    A better story would have been a report that examined the Los Alamitos situation. While 184 horses died over two years at Los Alamitos, no thoroughbred track came close to matching those numbers. Golden Gate Fields had the second most deaths with 104, not at all a surprise since it has more racing dates than any other California thoroughbred track.

    I have no idea if Quarter-Horse racing is somehow more dangerous than Thoroughbred racing (though Thoroughbreds also race at Los Alamitos and are dying there as well), but the numbers coming out of Los Alamitos are totally unacceptable. Something is very wrong there and the CHRB should do something about it.

    Other unsettling numbers coming out of the CHRB reports show a significant increase in horse deaths across all tracks that began in 2004, before the synthetic tracks were put in. During a period that ran from Nov. 2003 to Nov. 2004, 243 horses died at the California tracks. During the very next fiscal year the number jumped to 320 and has never been below 300 since. I suspect that around that time some new drug cropped up on the backstretches of California’s tracks that is still in widespread use today and is contributing to a lot of fatalities. Again, the CHRB ought to try to figure out what happened and fix it.

    The CHRB may have a lot to worry about and look at, but synthetic surfaces are not one of its primary problems. At least when it comes to safety, they’re getting the job done no matter what you may have read.

    Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at

    I realize he writes for ESPN, SI, NY Times…maybe part of it is because he does some homework instead of harping on one side over and over in what is clearly a divided issue.

  8. Andrew,

    Funny I thought the 8.8 earthquake and possible Tidal Waves were the biggest story of the weekend. Silly me, I’ll start looking for the SA rainout story and how its covered, Also looks to me that several other tracks canceled today, so this topic should be huge and easy to flip on the TV and hear about it.

  9. Patrick — Don’t insult me by saying I need to do more research just because I don’t agree with you. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I find it hard to put much credence into a story written by a guy who has a vested interest in synthetics. Bill wrote a book about how to bet on synthetics. Do you really, really think he wants to see them go away and make his book irrevelant? Be serious here. I was on the fence when synthetics were introduced. I wanted to give them a chance. After all, a lot of horsemen were in favor of them, a lot of the same ones who now want to see us go back to dirt.
    I will agree, though, that Los Alamitos’ dirt track should be looked into. No question. But let’s face it. When you’re dealing with $3,200 and $2,500 claiming horses, they are not the most sound horses in the business. And it’s interesting you bring up the Los Alamitos numbers. Take them out of the equation and the pro-synthetic people have even less legs to stand on than they do now.
    Tell you what — I’ll begin believing the CHRB numbers when they do an independent study that tell us a lot more — what type of horses are breaking down? how often are they racing? are they horses taking huge drops in class? I’ll also take the pro-synthetic argument more seriously when those folks begin admitting that the old dirt bases and less race-day scrutiny that is used today had much to do with the problems.

  10. Patrick, ask Bill Finley if he has ever been paid by any synthetic surfaces manufacturer, their subsidiary or agent. Maybe to write Dickinsons Tapeta brochure???

    What is it that guys like you don’t get about people like Finley having a vested interest in synthetic surfaces?

    Why do you assume that because he is an ESPN guy that he has some special insight and knowledge?

    Have you seen his tax return and all the W2-G horse racing winnings on it? What a joke!

  11. Hey Patrick ….

    Blah, Blah, Blah … Yeah, maybe Art should write about something else so that it takes the spotlight off the problem at Santa Anita. Also, Bill Finley’s book on “How to bet the synthetics” doesn’t have a thing about him wanting to see the synthetics be successful in California I bet. My God. You people just don’t get it, seeing how easily manipulated you are. Just who are you …. really?


    There were 54 horses I believe on the Anita card on Friday. The issues in the above article on the dire straights of thorougbred lending are a huge reason for the decline in racing in CA. When top owners like Zayed are being cut off you are going to have less horses running, less horses runnin handle drops. Vicious Cycle. From what I have heard 100’s of large owners are in default on racing related loans.

  13. Andrew, This is just starting to get good! I can’t wait to see a race writer covering news side news! LOL Time to pass the hippie lettuce, eh? :)

  14. Art, agree horses at Los Al in many cases should not be running so the numbers there are like everything in this debate are to be questioned. I am a horse player and owner, I have two trainers in So. Cal, one likes the surfaces and the other prefers dirt. I dont have a strong opinion either way. Top connections like Sheriff and the Moss’s dont run their horses when it is not safe for them to run, so track surface does not matter when it comes to people like them, Mandella, who favors synthetic, will not have a rash of breakdowns if we go back to dirt. The injuries usually come from guys other than the ones above. I hate seeing breakdowns, these tracks seemed to have reduced them in my opinion, but obviously there have been many new injuries that have appeared. One other reason for the reduced horses at the entry box in So Cal has been eliminating sterioids a few years ago, you could sit and argue this whole thing for hours..Yes horses like Rachel and Quality Road stayed away, but horses like Stardom Bound and Richards Kid came because of the surfaces. An intelligent argument could go back and forth. However most argument for and against are with scewed data to fit the side of preference. I agree with comments in some of your other blogs, the CA problems are much much deeper than the surface of the track. Many owners are out of money and either cutting back on horses, shipping for bigger purses back east, or just saying forget it. I think racing in CA is in big trouble. I hear about the gamblers not wanting to bet synthetic, handle is down everywhere, Fairgrounds is down 25%, the problems in racing are not just in CA, if you race in the northeast at least you have 5-6 tracks with a 2 hour van ride for purses bigger than in CA for most levels. But if you live in CA and ship to run at Charles Town or Penn National like Doug O’Neill is doing to take advantage of the purses and when you get you horses claimed or they get hurt owners are not going to buy more horses to watch them on HRTV or TVG at 9:00 at night.

  15. What is to be argued about? The evidence is in,synthetics have failed at Santa Anita.

    Horses will break down and have injuries on any surface. The point is the promises of the synthetics have failed to be realized.We have decades of good experience with well maintained dirt tracks.

    Statistics support statisticians.

    Lets return to traditional dirt and do our experiments on the training track in the future.

    Customers are a very important part of horse racing because they supply the income for the horsemen, racetrack and the State… Customers and 70% of the horsemen do not like the synthetics… and yet the managers never seem to consider the customers…I think that is troubling

  16. The old saying is haste makes waste. The installation of synthetic tracks in North America was pursued in response to the public outcry from casual fans regarding the safety of racing’s participants. There is no doubt that the industry’s intentions were noble, but its decision to install these tracks was made in haste. There obviously was no evidence available to support the assertion that the utilization of synthetic tracks would reduce the rate of break downs in thoroughbreds racehorses. The decision to mandate synthetic tracks in California was just an irresponsible, self-serving endeavor. I am not entirely averse to synthetic surfaces; when they are installed and maintained properly, the surface can be a reasonable, viable surface on which to race. However, I do think it’s clear from horsmen’s testimonials that the makeup of these surfaces increases the vulnerability of the animal with regards to soft tissue injuries. If the CHRB has overwhelming evidence that these surfaces decrease the number of fatalities, then, rather than act in haste again and change the track back to dirt, Santa Anita should manage and maintain the surface in a more aggressive manner. With that said, I do believe synthetic tracks pilfer the brilliance from certain animal’s performances. With last year’s Breeder’s Cup still fresh in the industry’s collective mind, it may seem ridiculous and/or futile to suggest such a thing on the heels of Zenyatta’s display of class and ability. But, truth be told, synthetic tracks put good horses on par with great horses, and that is a bit disconcerting (Dominican defeating Street Sense in the Blue Grass comes to mind). With a comment possibly as fractured as the industry itself, I would end by saying this- the racing industry needs balance. The industry is overly responsive in many instances to outside pressures, and with regards to other, pressing matters, it is left twiddling its thumbs. The racing industry must not act in haste, but musn’t hesitate and waste the moment when a decisive action is the appropriate one.

  17. All in all, the cancellation of racing at Santa Anita not only affects bettors, but also impacts everyone from the owners to the custodians in the grandstand. This impacts hundreds of people that don’t even make a wager on the races.

    I had a horse that was entered to run three weeks ago (when the card was shelved) and tried to enter her back in twice, but neither race filled. You have owners leaving California by the busload (one of my best friends just got out of the ownership game recently). Purses are down, costs to maintain a horse keep soaring.

    Dirt or no dirt, CA racing is in trouble. When Golden Gate Fields carries the flag for racing in California, you know the sport is in trouble.

  18. @ Patrick – I have been in this business in some form or another for 20 years. Many mornings are spent either at Hollywood Park or Santa Anita and made a career of racing at Los Alamitos. Basically Stronach completely screwed So Cal racing by not allowing San Manual to take over ownership. Many believe they had a deal in place to have gaming on the premises. The reason for the handles being higher in places like Penn and Charles Town is due to the slots and casinos that were voted on. It would have made sense to do it here, but Stronach has none.

    @ Art and anyone who will listen – You won’t see as many catastrophic breakdowns involving cannon bones or sesamoids. What you will see is many hip and stifle problems due to the action they have while running. Many horses won’t have problems until after they run or train in the mornings. Also, big trainers have just as many bad injuries as the small time guys do. I have worked for many of them and have seen it up close.

  19. The article was premised on the frequency of cancellation due to bad weather and then the comments derailed back to the injury frequency debate, which could probably be resolved once and for all if racing had a national authority that could commission a real analysis.

    As far as the track drainage, there’s really no reason that synthetic tracks can’t be designed to drain properly, this whole thing was probably the product of CHRB mandating synthetics and not allowing time for the installation to be planned and designed properly.

    I’m fine with them going back to the old dirt surface, but I want it to be the same old Santa Anita speedway, not Saratoga West.

  20. Just to add levity to the situation here, Turf Paradise cancelled their card today due to heavy rains that hit there last night (making their dirt surface a quagmire).

    It is the FOURTH time in the last week that Turf Paradise had to cancel their card.

  21. If bettors don’t like synthetic surfaces and this is a major reason handle is off at tracks with these surfaces, how do you explain the Fairgrounds, a dirt track, where handle is off 25% thus far? How do you explain the fact that handle is on a downward spiral nationally, at dirt tracks as well as synthetic? It has little to do with whether bettors like or dislike synthetics and a lot to do with the state of the economy and the fact that horse racing is a dying sport and will largely be dead in 12-15 years. As someone who has played the horses seriously for over 40 years, I find myself agnostic about its impending demise.

  22. Steve, Fairgrounds was washed out on at least one of their biggest days. Santa Anita handle is in the toilet about 35% I’ll bet. Cancelled days and not too many carryovers (the last Santa Anita meet they had close to 50% carryovers).

  23. Great piece Art. Just one thing: “California horse racing…is getting to the point where it’s now the laughing stock of the rest of the industry.”

    GETTING to the point? My friend, that horse left the barn about 10 years ago.

    You have to love that California’s horse racing industry leaders are just now discovering that the state’s off-track wagering model is out of date. You also have to love how they limit the number of out-of-state signals they can import, all in the name of “protecting live racing.”

    Really? How’s that working out? Tracks are closing. The ones that are still open have been cutting the number of races they run, and the number of dates per week they run.

    GETTING to the point? Sad to say, it’s been there for quite a while now.

  24. One more thing, and this is good news — you can tell how many people still care about the deteriorated condition of California’s racing industry by the number of responses your column has received.

    Let’s hope we don’t get so tired of what’s been going on that we stop caring.

  25. Fairgrounds handle is down because the simulcast sites that are part of the mid-Atlantic Coop could not take bets there for 2-3 months. It has nothing to do with the surface.

  26. After Santa Anita’s closing on Saturday due to a “torrential” downpour of 1 to 1 1/2 inches of rain (can anyone else hear the out of state people laughing?) I had an extra $40 bucks burning a hole in my pocket so I decided to venture down south to Los Alamitos to the quarter/thoroughbred track I haven’t been to in years.

    Now I know Los Alamitos is run on one of those old fashioned dirt tracks that kill horses (tongue in cheek) but despite all that a funny thing happened. Despite the muddy conditions, the track there was draining, there were no breakdowns or spills and I had an enjoyable evening with everyone else. I even remembered how to check for “mudders” and look at pedigrees. At the end of the evening, I left with a few more bucks, was able to have a few beers while there and was even able to stop at the local liquor store across the street and buy some Loto Tickets, something else I haven’t done in years. I’m looking forward to see if I hit it rich!

    My point is, who needs Santa Anita with the problems that are going on there? I realized Saturday night that there are plenty of fish in the sea to use my gambling bucks on. Maybe next time I’ll head to the Indian Casinos and try my luck at cards!


    Frank has the smart decision and left the track as is. The track at SA is fine except for drainage. Frank is basically saying that racing in CA is so screwed to track or anything else for that matter does deserve a buck spent on it until purses go up. Congrats Frank, you made a savvy business decision.

  28. Last two races cancelled today from Fairgrounds, “unsafe track conditions” was the given reason. Cant imagine the OUTRAGE on this board if the late double, Pick 4, were cancelled at SA.

    To touch on something that was talked about above, I believe a majority of the breakdowns at Los Al have occured on the sloppy sealed track surface that they run on there. That along with more than likely some soundless issues are the main cause of the high fatality rate at Los Al.

  29. Funny, The races at Los Al this past Saturday were run on a “sealed, wet fast” track but no breakdowns or casualties. Just luck I suppose.

  30. Luck, or just nothing happened.. 182 have not been so lucky, a high number for a place with 6 horse fields.

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