Golden Gate track draws raves

A stark contrast between the bad and the good of synthetic surfaces never rang truer than at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.

Santa Anita has had 11 canceled racing days because of a Cushion Track that doesn’t drain water. Officials hope to run Saturday with a new mixture in place of Pro-Ride binders and fibers added to the Cushion Track material.

The polar opposite was at Golden Gate. Despite near-record rainfall, not one day of racing was missed. The meet ended Sunday with spectacular results over their new Tapeta surface.

The average field size of 8.2 was an increase of 11.8 percent. Total handle was up 9.4 percent. Out-of-state wagering grew by 24.8 percent. The total handle increase would have been greater except for the Santa Anita cancellations. That caused many Golden Gate on-track patrons to leave early.

“Of all the things we do, rain is easy,” said Michael Dickinson, founder and developer of the Tapeta surface. (Tapeta is Latin for carpet.)

Said jockey Russell Baze: “This track has been amazing the way it has handled the rain. I’m getting spoiled to ride on it.”

After rough going early on when several horses were vanned off the racetrack, the track yielded few injuries the last five weeks of the meet. Dickinson went to Golden Gate to supervise changes in maintenance procedures.

The disaster at Santa Anita is sure to halt the installation of synthetic surfaces for the time being. Dickinson said he thinks the setback will be temporary. He predicts “there won’t be many dirt tracks left in five years.”

However, Dickinson is dismayed by the problems at Santa Anita. “There are 100 different kinds of wax, more than 50 different kinds of sand,” he said.

He is confident synthetic surfaces, if installed properly, would live up to the hype of being low maintenance and weather proof and promote equine safety.

• RIVIERA — Add the $1 million, 10,000-square-foot Riviera race book, called Crazy Leroy’s, to the city’s growing list of renovated race book properties. Leroy’s leases space from the Riviera and operates the race book. Last year, Leroy’s built a new race book in Ellis Island.

• SHAQ ATTACK — Who would have guessed the most memorable ad during the Super Bowl would feature NBA star Shaquille O’Neal as a jockey? Vitamin Water was the sponsor.

O’Neal, traded Wednesday to the Phoenix Suns, portrays a 325-pound jockey who rallies his horse from last to first to win a photo finish.

• DERBY FUTURE POOL — Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager will be available this weekend.

Las Vegas horseplayers have an edge of price shopping between the Future Wager parimutuel pool and local Derby Future Books. That includes Wynn Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook, Planet Hollywood and Coast Casinos.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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