The Breeders’ Cup, expected to pump in as much as $50 million into the local ecomony the last week of October, got a big boost Saturday morning with a ringing endorsement of Santa Anita’s overhauled track.
“This is the best track I’ve ever been on,” said none other than Gary Stevens, the Hall of Fame jockey who estimates he has ridden on somewhere between 200 and 300 racetracks around the world.
Stevens (right, in photos below) delivered those encouraging words after galloping a horse on track Saturday during an early-morning private session.
This reporter, representing “ArcadiasBest.com,” was the only member of the media in attendance.
Stevens initially delivered his report to Ron Charles, Santa Anita president, Ian Pearse, the Australian who oversaw the renovation, Ted Malloy, lead track consultant for Santa Anita’s parent company, Magna Entertainment, and Richard Tedesco, Santa Anita track superintendent.
“Wow, this is huge,” said a smiling Charles.
Actually, everyone was smiling.
“I’ve never seen Ian this happy,” Charles said.
During a later interview, Stevens said, “If the track is maintained properly and it remains as it is today, I can truthfully say it’s the best track I’ve ridden on.”
Stevens, who has been regularly riding in the mornings at Del Mar in preparation for a legends race during the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita Oct. 18, said he volunteered for today’s test.
“He was the perfect guy to do this,” Charles said.
“And we knew he’d tell us the truth,” added Tedesco.
Earlier in the week, the track was heavily watered to test it for drainage. That went well too.
All this good news is particularly important to the horse racing industry since both the 2008 and 2009 Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita. This year’s Breeders’ Cup is set for Oct. 24-25 during the Oak Tree meet, which begins Sept. 24.
The renovation, which began July 14, was scheduled to take four to six weeks. It took nearly seven.
Here are two videos shot by Scott Hettrick during construction:
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After Stevens’ test run Saturday, August 30, a few horses began training on the track. More will be arriving each day, Charles said, and there will be full-blown training sessions at Santa Anita after the Del Mar meet closes Wednesday, Sept. 3.
Pearse, when asked if there were any problems along the way, smiled to indicate there may have been a few hiccups. But then he said, “No, all the subs (sub contractors) did a great job. There weren’t any serious problems.”
Pearse, managing director of Pro-Ride, explained the step-by-step process.
First the old track was removed, including the asphalt base that created the drainage problem in January and February that resulted in an unprecedented 11 lost racing days (although three of those were made up).
There is no asphalt in the renovated track, which has several layers.
At the bottom is paper. On top of that are the pipes that make up the drainage system. Then comes seven inches of various sizes of rocks, ranging from three-eighths inches to 1 ¼ inches.
The rocks were flattened by steamrollers.
Pearse’s aim was to make each stage as perfect as possible, and he utilized space-age technology to achieve that goal.
“We used a GPS laser system to make sure each layer was level and has exactly the thickness of what the specifications called for,” Pearse said. “The system is accurate to within one-quarter of an inch.”
After flattening the rocks, the next step was stretching out green netting over them by using heavy equipment and then anchoring it down.
Pearse said this was so mething he decided to do because, during the Santa Anita winter-spring meet rocks, were surfacing and creating a major concern.
On top of the netting is a two-inch layer of sand and then final layer — six inches of the Pro Ride surface. (see photo above)
For the surface, Pearse used the same Cushion Track material that had been on the track, only it was completely treated with his own brand of fibers and binders.
The end result got an A-plus grade from Stevens.
“I just can’t say enough good things about this track right now,” he said.