California: Santa Anita to install artificial training track as part of $32M renovation

July 31, 2023 9:20 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Beth Harris, Associated Press
July 31, 2023 9:20 PM
  • Beth Harris, Associated Press

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Santa Anita will replace its dirt training track with a synthetic surface as part of nearly $32 million in improvements planned as the venerable racetrack absorbs an influx of horses, trainers and jockeys from Northern California’s Golden Gate Fields after it closes later this year.

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The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita in Arcadia and Golden Gate Fields in the San Francisco Bay area, said Friday it will spend over $1 million to support the relocation of horses and people from the north, with an additional $500,000 going to bolster the state’s breeding program.

TSG has budgeted $4.5 million for installing a Tapeta training track, the same surface that is used on the main racing track at Golden Gate. The project is expected to begin after Santa Anita hosts the Breeders’ Cup in early November and be finished by the start of the winter-spring meet on Dec. 26.

“We think this will be hugely beneficial not only for horses that will come down from the north, who a lot of them have only ever known training on Tapeta, but it will be hugely beneficial for Southern California and Santa Anita as a whole because of the inclement weather policies that really are tough out in California,” Aidan Butler, chief operating officer of TSG’s 1/ST Racing, said on a teleconference.

Gulfstream Park in Florida, also owned by TSG, and Woodbine in Canada currently race on synthetic surfaces.

Santa Anita had a synthetic racing surface in 2007, as did Del Mar and now-defunct Hollywood Park when it was mandated by California racing officials. But drainage problems cost the track racing days and heavy usage also wore down the synthetic materials quickly.

Butler acknowledged that history when he said, “Just historically in California, there hasn’t been a lot of success with synthetic tracks as a whole.”

He added, “We’re pretty confident that a synthetic track will work in California, but I believe a nice way of going about this is to put it in as a training option and not immediately create such a jarring environment that Santa Anita has more trouble than it currently does.”

Craig Fravel, CEO of 1/ST Racing, said switching from dirt to synthetic on the main track was initially considered, but TSG will instead evaluate how a synthetic training track fares in Southern California’s cool, wet winters and hot summers before making any future decisions.

TSG will spend $2.5 million to build a new turf chute at Santa Anita, which it said will allow new races to be created at varying distances.

Santa Anita will return to a fourth day of weekly racing starting with its winter-spring meet, adding 26 extra racing days.

TSG is budgeting $23.2 million to improve barns in Santa Anita’s stable area, starting with replacing the roofs.

Another $500,000 will be spent over two years on building a state-of-the-art equine pool for hydrotherapy.

TSG said it will fund an unspecified portion of 2024 health care costs for Golden Gate employees.