How Much Did That Track Cost?

by Ed Meyer

posted on January 9, 2009 in General Discussion, News | No Comments >>

Ian Pearse now knows what it’s like for an opposing quarterback to stand in the pocket and face a blitzing USC defense.

Pearse was confronted by about 50 trainers – some of them loaded for bear – in the Santa Anita grandstand on Wednesday morning during an hour-long meeting that was arranged by California Thoroughbred Trainers board member Clifford Sise.

The trainers showed up to express their fears over a synthetic Pro-Ride surface, founded by Pearse, that has been a heated topic during the first 10 days of the meet.

Five horses broke down during the first week of the meet, and three had to be euthanized. There have been no breakdowns in the past five days, but trainers are still complaining about the condition of a surface that the Australian-based Pearse installed at Santa Anita this past summer.

Mark Glatt said he was one of a handful of trainers who walked the track last weekend.

“What I saw was horrifying,” he said. “There were holes. It’s not a good race track. It’s inconsistent. We can’t have a race track like that.”

Vladimir Cerin was a proponent of synthetic tracks when they debuted at Hollywood Park in the fall of 2006, but he’s now concerned about a Pro-Ride surface that was universally praised during the Breeders’ Cup in October.

“Training on this track is like walking on a minefield,” he said. “The question is, who will be next?

“It’s easy to see obvious problems, but in this case nothing was obviously wrong,” he said.

Pearse, while admitting he has no maintenance agreement with Santa Anita, said a different plan of action needs to be implemented now that the weather has changed. He said the recent power harrowing was necessary to ensure an equal density throughout the surface.

“We need to have a different program now than what we had in the summer,” he said.

He said the U.S. is the only country where there is training and racing on the same track on the same day and that adjustments need to be made.

“It’s a whole new ballgame,” Pearse said.

Asked by trainer Darrell Vienna if the horses were the guinea pigs, Pearse didn’t refute the analogy.

“In this instance, yes,” he said.

Longtime trainers Bruce Headley, Mel Stute and Henry Moreno were perhaps the most outspoken.

Headley told Pearse, “I’ve got my money invested. You don’t have (bleep) invested.”

Said Stute: “In the past 40 years, I’ve had 12 fatalities, and nine have come on these synthetic tracks. They’ve been a pain in the (rear).”

About 20 minutes into the meeting, Stute got up, mumbled, “I’ve heard enough of this (bleep),” and left.

Moreno told the assembled group he thinks racing should go back to traditional dirt tracks.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen in my 58 years in racing,” he said.

David Hofmans and Dan Hendricks, while admitting concerns, were two trainers who said they don’t want to return to the days of sealed, dirt tracks.

“We shouldn’t forget about how bad it used to be,” Hendricks said.

Hofmans said some of the critics “must have a case of amnesia.”

John Sadler, winner of four of the past six Southland training titles, urged Ed Halpern, executive director of the CTT, to ask the California Horse Racing Board to remove the synthetic-track mandate.

“We just don’t want to be encumbered by the mandate,” Sadler said.

Halpern said that probably would not be necessary, that he felt the CHRB would back whatever needed to be done and would not enforce the mandate.

An official meeting between Pearse, selected trainers, veterinarians and Santa Anita officials is scheduled for today.