Outgoing CHRB vice chair: Put in synthetic at Santa Anita

November 15, 2019 09:39am

Madeline Auerbach, a horse breeder and owner, is also a longtime member of the California Horse Racing Board who announced her retirement this week.

In an exit interview of sorts with Daniel Ross, writing for the Thoroughbred Daily News, Auerbach covered why the CHRB’s vice chair would relinquish her role before the tenure ends in 2022, saying “powers that be” in state government, particularly Gov. Gavin Newsom, are reshaping the board’s leadership — and the plan apparently does not include her.

On her way out, Auerbach told Ross that going back to last spring, the CHRB was in discussions with the Stronach Group to shut down racing at Santa Anita in early February, before a spate of equine fatalities became national news. Since then, a measure has passed allowing the CHRB that power.

Another change Auerbach would like to see? At Santa Anita, “I think you have to absolutely stop racing here right now, rip out the track, put in a synthetic track, and figure out a way to utilize this timeframe that we are actually in right now,” she said.

In the lead up to the Breeders’ Cup, Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer of The Stronach Group, said track officials are considering reverting away from a main dirt track.

“As far as Santa Anita Park is concerned, we haven’t ruled anything out. Nothing is off the table,” Benson said. “We are looking into a number of things including the potential of bringing synthetic back.”

Santa Anita originally switched to synthetic due to a state mandate in September of 2007. But it was back to dirt by December of 2010.

Golden Gate Fields in northern California — another Stronach Group property — has continued racing on synthetic. Independently owned Del Mar has also returned to dirt in recent years.

“I think that a good portion of this country probably needs to go back to synthetic, done properly, not like last time,” Auerbach told the TDN. “We have a lot more information now and we should be able to do it better.”

Trainer Michael Dickinson’s Tapeta Footings has emerged as a key player in this market. His website notes that in 2017, Woodbine’s Tapeta course had a .63% rate of catastrophic injuries per 1,000 runners. On dirt in the U.S., the average was 1.74%.

Horsemen figure to push back on the issue given, as Auerbach mentioned, “last time.” The Cushion Track surface at Santa Anita was known to heat up under afternoon California sun.

“I think there’s been some debate if they are going to put in a synthetic track,” trainer John Shirreffs recently told Horse Racing Nation. “Having trained in California…when they did have the synthetics, I didn’t think it was a good experience. I don’t think the synthetic track works for the Thoroughbred. I think they would have to change the breed a little bit for that to work because it requires a much lighter horse to get over it.

“We had a lot of trouble with the synthetic when it got hot. It worked great at Hollywood Park, but it’s 20 degrees hotter at Santa Anita than it was at Hollywood Park. I think they should take their time and make a really good decision on that.”

Tapeta, lighter in color and perhaps less prone to extreme heating, is on its 10th iteration. Dickinson’s team is working on an 11th.


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