Santa Anita has come under fire after a series of breakdownsPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
Santa Anita investigates equine breakdowns
USA: The all-weather surface at Santa Anita, which garnered rave reviews at last year's Breeders' Cup, has come under the microscope after a series of breakdowns since the start of the track's winter-spring meeting at Christmas.
Five recent breakdowns, three of them fatal, have raised new questions about the Pro-Ride strip, on which Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator produced a historic one-two for Europe in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Largely for equine-welfare reasons, all major tracks in California have installed synthetic circuits in place of the traditional dirt, in line with several other top venues in North America like Arlington, Keeneland and Woodbine.
However, not everyone is convinced of their efficacy - and news of this spate of injuries at Santa Anita can only add grist to the sceptics' mill.
Santa Anita has been beset by problems since its dirt track - where several fatal breakdowns - was torn up in the summer of 2007.
Santa Anita: problemsPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
A year ago, the racecourse was hit by 13 abandonments due to waterlogging when its Cushion Track surface failed to drain properly.
The Pro-Ride surface was put down in places, then eventually replaced the Cushion Track surface prior to the autumn meeting that staged the Breeders' Cup, which went ahead without incident.
Now, though, this rash of injuries has prompted questions. "We are going to be working on the track in the next couple of days," said track president Ron Charles. "We believe that the last power harrowing we did (on December 30) helped."
Two horses broke down on opening day, December 26, one of them fatally. Then a day later classy filly Indyanne fractured a sesamoid in a Grade 1 , before others suffered fatal breakdowns on December 29 and December 31.
"We literally went a month without having a horse picked up by the ambulance in the mornings before the meet started," said Charles.
"To have five days and five horses get injured, three fatally, is something that obviously we need to look into and we're doing everything we can."
Speaking to the Daily Racing Form, he added: "This track has been very safe for three months, but the last week has been different from what we had.
"We want it back to the safe track we've had - it's been so well received for three months. The last week has been so difficult. It's so hard to explain. In the mornings it's been so well received. I've had many trainers saying, ‘Don't change anything'."
Bobby Frankel: track was greatPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
Trainer Bobby Frankel said: "Until it started raining and got cold, the track was great. I've not had any bad injuries, but I have had some foot problems, such as bruises."
Despite the problems, a majority of California trainers continue to support the synthetic surfaces over dirt.
Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said: "It's very difficult to determine how much is the track and how much is racing anomalies or other racing issues. Historically, the first few weeks of a meet are always the worst."