Santa Anita Park’s new Pro-Ride racing surface made its debut on Wednesday on opening day of the 2008 Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet. It replaces the former Cushion Track, and subsequent Cushion Track/Pro-Ride mix.
During the past Santa Anita meet, some of the broken asphalt base rose to the surface. Some jockeys wore protective plastic shields over their faces to block pieces kicked up by horses in front of them.The new Pro-Ride track now has a layer of “grit” replacing the asphalt, and a porous membrane separates it from the layer of rock beneath it. According to Santa Anita President Ron Charles, the new track is “87 percent natural dirt.” Maintenance is extremely low, with one manure-scooping break in the morning and one harrowing after training.
It appears much the same as before except for a slightly darker color. Horses’ hoof beats are almost silent as they go by, and their feet do not sink as far into it as dirt. There is no smell to the surface from the track apron, as other synthetic tracks had when they were newly installed. A member of Santa Anita’s starting gate crew filed a complaint to the California division of OSHA about the fumes that rise from the warmed surface - fumes so strong that the crew wore masks when they were out working on the track. Santa Anita hired an independent researcher to inspect the new surface, and no health risk was found.
Some things remain to be seen for the Pro-Ride surface. Some of the synthetic surfaces were originally only training tracks before being installed as racing surfaces in the United States. When 2,000 horses use a track for training and racing, the materials may wear out. Hollywood Park had to renovate its Cushion Track surface because of the heavy traffic it gets as a racetrack and year-round training site.
Another major hurdle is rain. The Cushion Track surface passed through the dry autumn of the 2007 Oak Tree meet without a hitch, but once a wet winter came during the Santa Anita meet, the surface’s draining flaws were quickly exposed. The answer to how Pro-Ride handles rain may have to wait a while.
For more reviews and reports on the new surface, check these links: