Bring on the rain. Whatever the weather, this track is always fast -- and a major water saver.
Today starts a new era at Golden Gate Fields in Albany. On opening day of its fall-winter meet, the 66-year-old bayside racetrack debuts the latest variation in safer synthetic surfaces, Tapeta Footings.
"There will be no more sloppy tracks at Golden Gate Fields," vowed general manager Robert Hartman.
Golden Gate becomes the fourth major track in California to convert its dirt main track to a synthetic surface as part of a state mandate. Santa Anita and Hollywood Park use Cushion Track. Del Mar installed Polytrack.
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Made of wax, sand, rubber and fiber, synthetic surfaces are considered safer for horses because they have more bounce.
Costing about $10 million to install, Tapeta already is paying dividends for Golden Gate. Field size for opening week is up an average of almost two horses per race, from 6.6 to 8.5. The barn area is filled to capacity with 1,350 horses. Track officials hope to build barns with 250 new stalls to accommodate the waiting list.
"It's been universally loved and accepted by the trainers here," Hartman said. "That's amazing. Trainers rarely agree on anything."
And the track has become a super water saver. Officials estimate the facility will save 30 million gallons in the first year.
"Most dirt tracks, you have to constantly add water or they get rock hard," Hartman said. "Since we first installed (Tapeta) six weeks ago, we haven't had to add a drop of water. The surface always stays moist."
Reviews have been positive.
"I've heard nothing but good things," said horse owner Bob Bone of Shingle Springs. "Everybody says they love it so far, but they'll wait and see what it's like in the afternoons."
Added Jerry Hollendorfer, who has won every Golden Gate training title since 1986: "It seemed like my horses did well on it. And they came out of their works well, so that's good."
This is the second Tapeta track in the United States. Newly opened Presque Isle Downs near Erie, Pa., installed Tapeta, designed by trainer Michael Dickinson. The surface also has been used at training facilities in Maryland, Singapore and Dubai.
Some of Bone's horses competed at Presque Isle.
"The weather didn't matter. Warm, cold or wet, it's always the same surface," he said. "One morning, they had an absolute monsoon. It rained hard for an hour. But an hour later, everything was fine, like it had never rained."
Not all synthetic surfaces are the same, Hartman noted. Magna Entertainment founder Frank Stronach and California president Ron Charles led the company's search for the perfect surface for its Bay Area venue.
"Hands down, this is the best of the lot, particularly for our weather," Hartman said.
Since the new track opened for training Oct. 5, Golden Gate has had two major storms, dropping about two inches of rain.
"The water flowed right through it," Hartman said, noting the track's superior drainage.
Hall-of-Fame rider Russell Baze worked some horses during those rainy mornings and was impressed.
"It really has a nice cushion," Baze said. "It handled the rain well."
RECORD AT STAKE, at Inglewood -- Jockey Garrett Gomez can match Jerry Bailey's record of 70 stakes wins in a year today in the $65,000-added War Chant Stakes on opening day of Hollywood Park's Autumn Meet.
Gomez will ride morning-line favorite Karazi in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds as he attempts to tie the record Bailey set four years ago.