Bay Meadows Might Defer Synthetic Track Decision

Bay Meadows Race Course, long rumored to be facing demolition in favor of redevelopment plans approved by the city of San Mateo, might seek an exemption from a California Horse Racing Board mandate to replace its existing dirt track with an artificial one by the end of 2007.

The Bay Area track is the only major facility in the state to not announce its synthetic surface plans. Jack Liebau, president of racing for the Bay Meadows Land Company, which also owns Hollywood Park, said Dec. 29 that Bay Meadows is operating "on a year-to-year basis and we may have to get an exemption" from the CHRB in order to continue receiving race dates after the deadline.

"We have no definite plans (for synthetic track) at this point," Liebau said. "We are in a waiting mode.

"Our track is pretty well acclaimed as a good track to race on," he added, "especially in the winter."

Hollywood Park  recently completed its first season with Cushion Track without a single racing fatality while racing over the new surface. According to Liebau, Hollywood "is the pioneer, so we may want to be an observer" at Bay Meadows during the coming months to see how other tracks fare.

"We were extremely pleased with the Cushion Track, but maintenance is something of an issue," he said, noting that the surface seemed to handle heat much better than cold. That theory should be put to the test at Hollywood's 2007 spring/summer meet.

Santa Anita Park plans to install a synthetic racing surface to replace its main dirt track sometime this summer. A decision from owner Magna Entertainment Corp. is due on the brand to be used in February or March at the latest, track president Ron Charles said Dec. 28.

Hollywood Park was the first to respond with Cushion Track to the CHRB mandate, which came as a result of concerns for the safety of horses and riders. In January, Del Mar begins the process of installing Polytrack. Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita's Magna-owned sister track, is planning to use Tapeta Footings, with replacement expected to begin in May.

According to Charles, Magna and Santa Anita have heard pitches from those three companies plus Pro-Ride Racing Australia, which uses an oil-based synthetic material rather than a wax-based one because it is believed to better withstand Australian heat. Santa Anita plans to install a new surface, which would cost up to $10 million, during the Del Mar meeting, he said.

“Santa Anita is in the unique position of having to deal with multiple days of extreme weather, with temperatures over 100 degrees during Oak Tree in the summer and down into the 30s during the winter. We're the only Southern California track that has those types of variables," Charles said. "With synthetic surfaces being a work in progress or still having a learning curve, it’s critical that we try and obtain the most information we can so that we make the right decision.”

Besides doing test spots on the various substances, Charles said track representatives have examined synthetic track compositions in England and are planning a fact-finding trip to Dubai to check on similar surfaces there. He said it was unlikely that Santa Anita would seek to delay a decision.

"We would have to see real problems at the tracks that have synthetic surfaces this winter and spring," Charles said. "If real problems became evident,  we'd have to look at that before moving ahead."

Pro-Ride, which is in use at 14 Australian racing clubs, has been employed for training only because they only race on turf  in that country, according to Royce Hanamaikai, a company representative based in Santa Clarita, Calif. He said the Sydney Turf Club, which approved the installation of Pro-Ride at Rosehill Gardens in August, could become the first to race over it.

About the Author

Jack Shinar

Jack Shinar is a frequent contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine and is part of their Digital Media department.

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