New Santa Anita track to have its first racing test this weekend

A refurbished dirt surface with more sand and less clay will get its first racing test with the start of the 24-day Santa Anita autumn meeting Friday.

The Arcadia track was shut down for 12 days in July to change the composition and lessen the clay content. Trainers were consulted, and early reports on the new surface are positive.

“I think everybody’s really excited,” trainer John Sadler said. “The surface looks fantastic. The horses seem to love it. We think it has a chance to be the best surface in America.”

The autumn meeting, formerly run by the Oak Tree Racing Assn., will start with a big opening weekend of Breeders’ Cup prep races.


On Saturday, there will be four $250,000 Grade I races — the Lady’s Secret Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares; the Goodwood Stakes at 11/8 miles for 3-year-olds and up; the Norfolk Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for 2-year-olds, and the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at 11/4 miles on the turf for fillies and mares.

On Sunday, there’s the $250,000 Grade I Oak Leaf Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, and Horse of the Year candidate Acclamation is expected to run in the $150,000 Grade II Clement L. Hirsch Turf championship.

The Breeders’ Cup is set for Nov. 4-5 at Churchill Downs, so this is the last tuneup for some major contenders.

Blind Luck, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2010, will lead the field in the Lady’s Secret. Game On Dude, the Santa Anita Handicap winner, will seek to cement a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the Goodwood. Drill, emerging as a candidate for the Kentucky Derby, tops the field in the Norfolk. Turf specialists Dubawi Heights and Malibu Pier lead the contenders in the Yellow Ribbon.

The autumn meeting features racing Thursdays through Sundays, plus racing on Monday, Oct. 10. There are 13 graded stakes, along with California Cup Day on Oct. 29, which includes five stakes for Cal-breds.

The track has agreed to make its Internet broadcast feed from HRTV available to mobile devices and home computers.

And for opening day, Unzip Me, a four-time stakes winner over Santa Anita’s downhill turf course, will be the horse to beat in the $100,000 Grade III Sen. Ken Maddy Stakes at 61/2 furlongs on the turf.

Of course, the real test for the main track won’t come until the weather changes and rain arrives in December and January.

Jason Spetnagel, in charge of the track’s maintenance, said, “It should handle wet weather better.”