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Maintenance Crew Races Clock During Track’s Off-Season

Times Staff Writer

It looks like an abandoned city--its cavernous interior dark and covered with tarpaulin, its grounds silent except for the hum of an occasional lawn mower.

This is Santa Anita Race Track during its off-season, when the 33,000 people who pour in daily during the winter head instead for Hollywood Park race track and later to Del Mar.

The 100 painters, gardeners, custodians and security personnel employed by the race track in the spring and summer welcome the respite. They have the chance to perform maintenance chores that are impossible to accomplish during the season.

$100,000 a week

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It costs more than $100,000 a week to maintain the 320-acre track during the off-season. Most of the money goes toward fumigating flower beds, pruning pepper and olive trees, overhauling equipment used to keep the racing surface even and spraying weeds that grow in cracks in the parking lots.

Average daily attendance at Santa Anita is the highest of any race track in the country, said Clint Granath, plant superintendent, “so during the season it is a major project just keeping the place cleaned up.”

“Our biggest headache is cleanup during the meet. Race track fans generate a lot of debris, such as racing forms, so we have crews working through the night. Scheduling them and keeping the equipment in order is a problem.

Track Renovated Weekly

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“We also put a lot of effort into maintaining the racing surfaces. Once a week the track is renovated, with the soil broken up and tilled. And it is harrowed between races. I think the track is the most worked piece of soil in the county.

“The place really takes a beating during the season. The building needs repainting and we have plumbing work to do.

“And we usually have new projects. This summer we are quadrupling the electrical power supply and extending the clubhouse patio area. Last year we built an addition to the Turf Club.”

Rarely a Dull Moment

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But Granath, who has worked at the track six years, isn’t complaining. He likes his job because the work is varied, he is outdoors most of the time and he rarely has a dull moment.

For example, he has been trying to catch a thirsty coyote that is destroying garden hoses and digging holes in the turf track.

And, he said, “The pigeons create a real problem in the box seat area. They seem to favor bald heads. When we get complaints we try to remove the nest but there is no permanent solution.”

Stable Area Is Lively

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The most lively activity during the off-season is in the stable area, where half the 2,100 stalls are occupied by horses in training. They are on the track from 6 to 10 a.m. with their trainers and exercise riders.

Although Santa Anita does host a few charity events during the off-season, this summer will be a particularly quiet one. Last summer the track was used for Olympic equestrian events, and for several previous years it hosted 10-day horse shows to prepare for the Olympics.

The track, owned by the Los Angeles Turf Club Inc., does not accept commercial events, and, although it would seem ideal for concerts, the idea has not been considered, said Jane Goldstein, director of publicity.

The track has no exterior lighting, so outdoor events cannot be held at night. And because it is in a residential neighborhood, it likes to maintain good relations with the neighbors.

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50 Office Workers

Besides the maintenance workers, the track has 50 office employees who work through the off-season overseeing the daily operation and planning the coming season.

Employment during the season--generally 90 days, from Christmas to the end of April and a six-week Oak Tree meet in the fall--ranges from 900 to 1,500, including pari-mutuel clerks, ushers, concessionaires and parking attendants. Most of those people are now at Hollywood Park, which began its season when Santa Anita closed.

Although the grandstand is open and empty, the interior betting area is enclosed under a large tarpaulin. The reason, Granath said, “is to keep out the pigeons.”

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