Digging up the old to put in the new. Santa Anita replaces its synthetic surface with a super fast dirt track. Photo (c) Benoit Photos.
The Los Angeles Daily News reports on reactions to the new dirt surface at Santa Anita racecourse installed in time for its winter-spring meeting, and resulting racehorse injuries and fatalities.
We’re a little more than one-fifth of the way through Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet and the track’s new main dirt surface is receiving positive reviews overall.
That’s not to say there haven’t been some rough patches, but a pair of experts on the subject are pleased with the results through the first 17 days of the 76-day meet.
“I think the track’s OK,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. “I would like to see it a little slower than it is. Just in my observation, they tried to put this track in too quickly. We had record rains in December and they haven’t had an opportunity to really learn how to maintain the race track.
“Every race track is different. We saw the same things with synthetics. I think they’re going to learn how to do it, and I think this track is going to get better.”
For the record, there had been two racing fatalities at Santa Anita through Monday, one in the afternoon and one during training.
There were nine horses vanned off through Sunday, none since Jan. 6, and at least one of the horses suffered a career-ending injury. 
The training fatality was reportedly not surface related.
The Daily Racing Form talks a bit more about some of the injuries.
Jack Carava, among the perennial local leaders, had every right to complain after suffering through a number of injuries since opening day, but he declined.
“I was extra careful, too,” Carava noted. “Before coming over here from Hollywood I started galloping horses on the dirt training track over there. I took my time jogging and galloping here before I started to breeze, but that didn’t seem to matter. None of the injuries have been things they can’t come back from – mostly chips and condylar fractures – but they’re happening to horses I thought were the soundest in the barn. 
Notable here is that a new Cushion Track racing surface was installed at Hollywood Park in September, 2006, to replace the existing dirt, making it the first racecourse in California meeting the CHRB guideline that all tracks under its jurisdiction replace dirt surfaces with a safer artificial surface by the end of 2007.
Interestingly, there may be more to this running back and forth on surfaces than initially meets the eye.
Horseraceinsider posted an article stating:
Part of the selling of synthetics, wittingly or not, was done by Dr. Rick Arthur, a proponent who wields much influence as Equine Medical Director for the California Horse Racing Board. Arthur conducted studies he says indicates that all-weather surfaces are safer.
On the issue of synthetic tracks, horseplayer and activist Andy Asaro has been on the case of anyone and everyone in California who has the least bit authority, hoping to rectify what he has called racing’s greatest hoax; the selling of synthetics in the name of safety. 
Frank Stronach, who retained ownership of Santa Anita after going through bankruptcy proceedings, is the decision maker on returning to good old-fashioned dirt. Stronach’s announcement was greeted with applause.
Yet at the beginning of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting two years earlier, the Thoroughbred Times reported that trainers gave mixed reviews on its dirt track.
Some trainers, while expressing concerns over the breakdowns [five breakdowns, three dead], noted that Santa Anita with a dirt track in the winter rainy season would have to seal its surface. That would often lead to shorter fields two to three weeks afterward when horses would come up sore, according to Halpern [Ed Halpern, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers] and Arthur. 
Other California racecourses do not have the same maintenance and drainage problems experienced at Santa Anita, and most likely will not be changing from a synthetic surface to a dirt track any time soon, if at all.
Important to note is that available information indicates that the number of racehorse breakdowns and fatalities appear remarkably similar regardless of the surface the horses race on.
To comply with a State of California mandate, Santa Anita replaced its dirt racing surface with a new synthetic surface called Cushion Track, a mixture of silica sand, synthetic fibers, elastic fiber, granulated rubber and a wax coating. The new Cushion Track opened for training on Sept 4, 2007 and hosted its first live race on Sept 26, 2007.
Subsequently, management made the decision to replace Cushion Track with a new artificial racing surface manufactured by Pro-Ride, an Australian-based company. This surface was installed in time for the 2008 Oak Tree meeting and Breeder’s Cup event.
Santa Anita announced its plan to replace Pro-Ride and return to a dirt surface in late 2010. In order to remain in compliance with CHRB regulations, Santa Anita petitioned the CHRB to issue a waiver to its mandate.
 “Santa Anita’s new surface gets an early thumb’s up”, by Art Wilson, Los Angeles Daily News, Jan. 20, 2011
 “Rain spoils delicate mixture of Santa Anita’s new main track,” by Jay Hovdey, Daily Racing Form, Jan. 12, 2011
 “As Dirt Track Looms, Santa Anita Synthetics Issue Rages On”, by HorseRaceInsider, Jan. 13, 2011
 “Santa Anita surface under microscope,” by Tracy Gantz, BloodHorse, Jan. 7, 2009
“Areas of Humerus Stress in Horses Differ with Track Surface,” by Erica Larson, TheHorse.com, Jan. 21, 2011
“Sand added to Santa Anita main track to correct an imbalance after heavy rains,” by Brenda Gazzar, Pasadena Star-News, Jan. 18, 2011
“Problems continued with Santa Anita Main Track; Eighth horse vanned off in eight programs,” by Ray Paulick, Paulick Report, Jan. 7, 2011 (Note comments)
“Specialist will study safety of Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride surface”, by Steve Anderson, Daily Racing Form, Aug. 16, 2010
“Seven horses die in less than a month at Santa Anita Racetrack, by LA Unleashed, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24, 2009