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Rain threatens races at Santa Anita track

The Baltimore Sun

A drainage problem with the new synthetic track at Santa Anita could jeopardize its thoroughbred racing programs if the Arcadia, Calif., area is hit with predicted heavy rainfall in the coming days.

"It's designed to be an all-weather track. At this point, it's anything but," Mike Willman, director of publicity at Santa Anita, said yesterday. "If we get the heavy rain that is forecast, there is a very strong possibility we will have to cancel racing at some point."

The new track, installed last summer at a cost of $11 million, was designed to ensure safety for horses and jockeys. But, Willman said, the drainage problem was discovered in September, while racing programs were being held at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds.

"We had a half-inch [of] rain overnight, and we were forced to miss training for two consecutive mornings due to the drainage problem," he said. "The problem is in the material. It's since been pretty well agreed that it's the fine silt in the material, and for whatever reason, this material is bonding to water. It's not allowing the water to drain vertically, which is the way this track is designed now."

Paul Harper, technical director of Cushion Track Footings, said the problem is one his company had not encountered before, explaining that the focus on enabling the track to withstand high temperatures probably has compromised the drainage.

"After extensive testing, which is still going on even now, the experiments indicate that the sand seems to be the area of concern," Harper said in a news release issued by Cushion Track. "Over the past few weeks and following extensive efforts, the drainage has improved."

It's unknown whether the drainage has improved enough to allow racing to go on as scheduled. Harper said if a remedy isn't found, Cushion Track will install a new surface after Santa Anita's winter-spring meet, scheduled to end April 20.

Maryland -- The Maryland Jockey Club announced its total handle fell 8 percent in 2007. That could have been an impact because racing was five days shorter than a year ago. This year's handle was $883.8 million; last year's was $960.2 million. The daily average handle decreased 6.5 percent from $4.1 million to $3.8 million.

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