Santa Anita sues Cushion Track

The owner of Santa Anita Park has filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of its troublesome synthetic racing surface, claiming that the company failed to live up to the terms of its contract and breached a warranty, according to court papers.

The suit, filed May 8 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, seeks $8.4 million in restitution from Cushion Track Footing, which is based in the United States, and its related company, Equestrian Surfaces International, which is based in the United Kingdom. The suit asks for a jury trial to determine punitive damages as well.

In response to an e-mail inquiry, Philip Bond, a director of Cushion Track, said that the company could not comment on the lawsuit "at this time."

"I do anticipate we will be able to do so in the near future," Bond wrote.

In the suit, Los Angeles Turf Co., the owner of Santa Anita and a subsidiary of Magna Entertainment Corp., alleges that Cushion Track was aware that the materials it supplied in 2007 for the synthetic surface were not consistent with the materials supplied to Hollywood Park, another Cushion Track customer. In addition, the suit claims that the company failed to honor terms of a warranty by refusing to refund the track's money when problems with the surface arose after heavy rainfall last December and January.

"Defendants have breached the terms of the contract, in that, among other things, the track material is not fully suitable for its intended use and purposes, the track material does not have identical performance characteristics with that supplied to Hollywood Park, and the track material does not perform acceptably at any temperature," the suit states. "Moreover, defendants have failed and refused to remove the track material and refund the monies paid to LATC."

Santa Anita selected Cushion Track as its synthetic-surface manufacturer after the California Horse Racing Board approved a mandate in 2006 that all major racetracks in the state install synthetic surfaces by the end of 2007. The company's only other U.S. racetrack client is Hollywood Park, though its foreign subsidiaries have installed similar surfaces at racetracks and training facilities in Britain and Australia.

The track at Santa Anita, first used during last year's Oak Tree meeting in the fall, did not exhibit problems until rainstorms deluged Southern California in January. Santa Anita officials complained that the track was not draining properly, and as a result, 11 live racing days were cancelled.

In the lawsuit, Santa Anita claims that Cushion Track used a "fine, silt-like sand that contributed to the failure of the track surface." The suit claims that the material differed from that used at Hollywood Park, which first raced on its Cushion Track during its fall meet in 2006.

Santa Anita paid Cushion Track $5.2 million to buy the surface material. In December, Santa Anita paid $1.37 million to make repairs to the surface to address the drainage problems, and in January, the track paid a competing supplier of synthetic surfaces, Pro-Ride, an additional $1.8 million to add material to the surface. The $8.4 million claim is based on the total of those amounts.

Despite the repairs, the lawsuit says, "the track remains unsuitable, as attested to by the horsemen's groups and LATC. LATC has demanded that defendants remove the track material at their expense and refund the monies paid, as required under contract. Defendants have failed and refused to do so."