ARCADIA, Calif. -- Santa Anita's opened its newly installed sand-and-clay track to training for the first time on Monday, although with only 200 horses on the grounds there was seldom more than 10 horses on the track at one time.
The horses who did test the new surface were mostly limited to jogging on a surface that received approximately three-quarters of an inch of rain overnight.
The new surface received favorable reviews from exercise riders and trainers.
"I love it, and the horses love it more than me," said exercise rider Goncalino Almeida, who works for trainer Carla Gaines. "For now, it feels very good. It's got a nice cushion. They jog differently than the last times at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, or here. They jog more confidently, very smoothly."
Gaines was the first trainer with horses on the track on Monday, at 5:08 a.m., according to track officials. By late morning, Gaines had exercised all of her 32-strong stable on the surface.
"Everyone cantered and jogged," she said. "We're not doing much today. My guys are excited. If my guys like it, I like it. Hopefully, it will be a good racetrack."
Activity will intensify in coming days as more stables relocate to Santa Anita from Fairplex Park and Hollywood Park and horses arrive from Kentucky for trainers such as Steve Asmussen and Eric Guillot. The winter-spring meeting begins on Dec. 26, which will mark the first live racing at Santa Anita since late April. Track officials expect to have 1,000 horses on the grounds at the end of the week, and be near capacity of approximately 2,000 later this month.
Some trainers based at Hollywood Park said they plan to stay there for another week or so because they have runners at that track's autumn meeting, and to give the Santa Anita surface additional time to settle.
"I guess a lot of guys are saying, 'Let the other guy go first,'" said Santa Anita's track maintenance superintendent, Richard Tedesco.
The few trainers present on Monday took the advice of track officials and limited activity on the first day. Bob Hess Jr., Jim Cassidy, and A.C. Avila were among those who exercised their horses early Monday.
"My guys love it," Avila said. "It's a little tighter because of the rain, but that's normal."
Cassidy had hoped to train on the infield training track, but it was sealed and closed on Monday. His horses, including the multiple Grade 1 winner Evening Jewel, were exercised on the main track.
"Everyone was saying they were happy with the track," he said of his staff of exercise riders.
The weather did have an effect on the surface. A few areas directly under the inside rail, near entrances to the turf course, washed out during the overnight rain, leading Tedesco to seal off the inside 15 feet of the track. Training activity was limited to an area about four paths from the inside rail to the outside rail.
Tedesco said the washed-out areas would undergo maintenance later Monday.
"It will be open from rail to rail" on Tuesday, Tedesco said.
Installed over the last six weeks, Santa Anita's new surface consists of 90 percent sand, using two types of sand, and 10 percent clay.
The new surface brings an end to a troubled three-year era with two synthetic surfaces.
Santa Anita track chairman Frank Stronach committed to the installation of a clay and sand surface during the summer at the urging of horsemen's groups. After the existing Pro-Ride synthetic track was removed in October, the base of the new track was installed in mid-November. In the last week of November, the installation of the upper layer of the surface was completed.
The base and upper layers of the surface will have a depth of 15 to 17 inches.
Santa Anita's synthetic tracks were plagued by maintenance problems and poor drainage. The track lost 11 days of racing during the 2007-08 meeting, the first season with a synthetic surface, and five days of racing earlier this year because of poor drainage.
Tedesco said new track had no drainage problems on Sunday night into Monday.
"I hope that when we get two or three inches it does the same," Tedesco said. "It does need water and it will dry out fast."