"There is no secret about the advantages of a California track. Horses stay sound longer, run farther and with less effort than most anywhere else. The less effort a horse needs to win, the longer he'll keep on running in top form, and that means money in the bank for any stable, plus a far better chance to prove a stud prospect. If a track is deep, horses flounder, and when they flounder they are far more apt to take a faulty step. Deep tracks put a strain on a horse, and a tired horse is an injury-prone horse."
Horatio Luro, the colorful internationalist who also races both sides of the continent, puts it another way: "Santa Anita's track is superb and an excellent example of a firm, fast, safe course. Any time you encounter a deep track, a horse cannot get ahold of it properly, and this gives you a condition called 'cuppy.' As a horse strides, the ground breaks out from under his feet. He slips and slides a fraction of an inch every time his hoofs touch the footing. The firmer the track, the less tendency it has to cup and is, therefore, safer. Of course, there has to be a cushion, but these California people have combined speed with safety very expertly."
We could add testimony upon testimony, but these two observations born of experience are typical.
Santa Anita has reversed the process of most track maintenance procedures, depending mainly upon the simple process of rolling the track to a considerable degree of compaction, then cutting a fluff cushion on the surface and letting it go at that.
The general manager of Santa Anita, Gwynn Wilson, reasons this method as being the most sensible, explaining, "Normally, we roll the track and then harrow in a cushion of about two and three-quarter inches. If we get a forecast of rain, we roll and stop right there. If the rain actually arrives, the horses punch their feet through the dampish surface and in effect cut their own cushion. If it doesn't rain, it's no trouble to harrow the fluff up for regular fast track racing. We haven't had a single serious complaint this winter but an astonishingly high number of compliments."
Wilson hastily added that Santa Anita has no paving underneath its surface, the old rock foundation having been torn out a few years ago. Now there is only the area's natural soil going straight down to bedrock.
Hollywood Park, where world records abound, has an inch of soil compacted into an asphalt base, just 18 inches underneath its running surface. But at Hollywood, another high-safety-rated track, the proof of its engineering is easily demonstrated by the phenomenon that when horses speed over its course, people standing at the outer rail cannot hear any clatter of hoofs. This ear test is regarded by horsemen as scientifically decisive.
Golden Gate Fields, on the tideland of San Francisco Bay, claims to be the world's fastest track, which it probably is. Golden Gate has a true rock base of decomposed, compacted granite, and this base is fairly close to the surface. Yet trainers who race it flatly declare it is one of the safest of all race tracks. The explanation at Golden Gate lies in part in the makeup of its surface soil which is impregnated with colloids. These small particles tend to stay in suspension in water and impart a bounce that literally scoots a horse ahead. Horses don't run in the accepted sense of the word at Golden Gate, they skim.
Visible proof is offered the skeptic by driving a truck around the track. The tires sink in, and you can actually see the ground rise, seemingly coming alive in the wake of the wheels.
Other notable fast, safe tracks in the West are Longacres near Seattle, Caliente in Old Mexico, and Turf Paradise in Phoenix. In years gone by, when Caliente didn't have the quality stock it boasts today, it was axiomatic that if you sent an ailing horse there, the chances are he would get well and race indefinitely. For Caliente, like all pasteboards, is kind to horses with tendon or ligament trouble.