JC / Railbird

Dirt

The Toll

Somewhat overshadowed by the Big ‘Cap controversy is that there were two fatalities at Santa Anita on Saturday, one on the new dirt, one on turf:

According to Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, Saturday’s double fatality brought the thoroughbred death totals since the Dec. 26 start of the Santa Anita meeting to 16 — six in racing and six in training on the new dirt track and four on the grass course. Last year, for the entire meeting, and on the synthetic track that brought much anger and whining from horsemen and resulted in owner Frank Stronach replacing it with traditional dirt, there were a total of 17 deaths — six on the main track, five on the training track and six on the grass.

Live racing ends on April 17. With fewer total races carded this year over last, Santa Anita is on track for approximately 26 total fatalities during the meet.

3/9/11 Addendum: More context from Jeff Scott regarding the fatalities on the Santa Anita dirt: “The death of Redemsky brings the total to at least 12, a number that rivals the worst years on the old Santa Anita dirt before the first synthetic surface was installed in 2007.” Where’s the press on this reversion?

Fast Track

What to look for when Santa Anita opens with its new dirt surface:

… welcome back front-runners to a surface that track project manager Ted Malloy expects will reward fast horses.

“A fast track, if it’s not tiring, is always speed-favoring,” Malloy said.

See also:

“I must have worked 20-something horses that first week and 20-something the second, and the track was fast,” she said. “Like holy guacamole fast.”

And:

“This track is going to be very good. It will probably be a little speed biased. I think dirt handicappers are going to love it.”

Circling Back

Jay Hovdey on Santa Anita’s return to dirt:

So it is ahead to the past — sealed tracks and cracked feet, burned heels and rundowns, strung-out fields shying from sandy kickback — a past in which the inability to deal with the effects of dirt tracks inspired the desperate dive into synthetics in the first place. As usual it will be up to the horses, always the horses, to survive this latest shift in the terrain.

There’s been speculation that, with the new surface, old-fashioned California super speed will make a comeback, but Thoroughbred Times reporter Jeff Lowe tweeted late Friday that, “Baffert said it’s closer to Churchill surface than anything he’s seen in Calif,” which suggests not.

The Restoration

The work of replacing Santa Anita’s synthetic surface with dirt has begun:

“We just started to take the synthetic material off today,” Malloy said on Monday. “We’ve had skip loaders out on the track, piling it up and we’ll start hauling it off tomorrow. We anticipate it’ll take about two weeks to remove all of the synthetic material.”

The project is expected to be completed mid- to late-November.

With the return of dirt, owner and CHRB member Jerry Moss predicts:

“It’ll be a rebirth of California racing at the highest form and a successful, happy, nondivisive meet.”

Such optimism. Because, as with injuries, the surface is the only issue?

I realize I’m in the minority, but I’ll miss the Santa Anita synthetic. Although more handicappers caught on during this year’s Kentucky Derby prep season, the synth-to-dirt/SA-to-east angle was a profitable one during its existence. And I didn’t regret the Pro-Ride during the 2008 and 2009 Breeders’ Cup, not after the slop at Monmouth in 2007. There was not one breakdown in those four days, no George Washington to haunt our collective memories.

Elsewhere and unrelated: A short piece on public handicappers for HRF.

Euro Take

On the news that the Santa Anita track will return to dirt:

“I’m disappointed because the European horses won’t be as effective in the BC and I can’t win as much money on backing them through the Yankie [sic] Tote.” — TiltEngine88, United Kingdom / 09:52pm – 19 Aug 10

With the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, that would have been the case this year and next anyway, TiltEngine88! And don’t forget, you still have the Turf.

Rich Eng makes a very sensible point regarding the surface change:

I don’t think this will be the game changer that many others expect it to be. The problems in California racing run a lot deeper.

Also, horsemen and horseplayers: “it’s put-up-or-shut-up time.”

Elsewhere: I haven’t done a links post in several weeks, but the bookmarking never stopped. If you liked those posts, you may like my Delicious account, to which I’ve recently saved more reactions to Santa Anita’s return to dirt, a flashback to racing at the 2001 Brockton fair, a guide to HTML5 for journalists, a summer cocktail recipe, an interview with novelist Gary Shteyngart …

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