The Breeders' Cup Forum: Track Superintendent Dennis Moore - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Track Superintendent Dennis Moore

Dennis Moore

The hiring in November of Dennis Moore as track superintendent at Santa Anita Park was widely applauded within the Southern California racing community, especially after an autumn meeting when Santa Anita hosted the Breeders' Cup and horsemen, riders and fans complained about the condition of the dirt course.

Prior to coming to Santa Anita, Moore, 64, held a similar position at Betfair Hollywood Park, where the Cushion Track synthetic surface was popular, even among trainers who prefer dirt. Currently, Moore is also working on the expansion of the Los Alamitos oval from furlongs to one mile in anticipation of the Orange County serving as a training center and hosting brief summer and winter race meetings for Thoroughbreds.

Manicuring racetracks comes naturally to Moore. His father, Bob Moore, and brother, Ron Moore, were both track superintendents.

In addition to his work at Hollywood Park, Moore has maintained surfaces at tracks and training centers throughout North America, Dubai, England, and Germany. He was a pioneer in working on synthetic tracks, having been superintendent at Remington Park when a revolutionary surface called Equitrack was installed for the opening of the Oklahoma City facility in 1988.

Is there a more thankless job in horse racing than being a track superintendent?

A racing secretary and track superintendent probably would run neck and neck. It's a no-win situation most of the time.


Did you ever consider doing anything else?

I thought of doing a lot of other things in the beginning. I had a couple of scholarship offers to play football, but I chose instead to stay in California and went and played ball at junior college at Cerritos, then got married, had a child, had to go to work and ended up at the racetrack. Oddly enough, I started off at Los Alamitos in 1972. I'd get laid off in the summers, then worked the Oak Track meet from 1972-76  for track superintendent Bill Quiggle. I learned a lot from both Bill and my father.


How has the job evolved over the years?

Tracks have changed, horsemen have changed, horses have changed, and track managements have changed. The whole thing has evolved. In California, we've changed the tracks from what they were in the very beginning as far as soil composition. We are sandier than we used to be. In the late 1970s, we were getting 30 to 40 inches of rain in the winter in Southern California. That frightened us all because we went through some harrowing times as far as the track surfaces are concerned. We started getting a little sandier.


Wasn't this when there a lot of records being set and East Coast horsemen compared California racetracks to “concrete highways”?

Part of the change was to slow them down a little to attract more East Coast stables.


What about equipment?

It's changed quite a bit. My brother and I used to ride on the back of three-wheel harrows, and we'd have clod fights from the clods coming up. You use different types of harrows now, plus you're more weight conscious about how heavy the equipment is.


What changes have you made to Santa Anita's surface or maintenance routine since coming over in November?

I just started tweaking the maintenance, being on-hand, paying close attention and making adjustments in how we set the harrows and water adjustments. Andy LaRocco, who was here before me, has been great to work with. We've only made some subtle changes. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we've got a lot of obstacles to meet going through the end of June.


Have you made any changes to the composition of the surface?


What do you see as your biggest challenge with the Santa Anita surface?

Weather will definitely be the biggest challenge. We'll have to watch it very carefully and adjust the moisture. The weather has been going cold to hot, cold to hot. It's unseasonably warm right now (Dec. 30), but long-range there will be a change in the pattern. You always have to be aware of that. Once we get to April and warmer weather, we'll have to make adjustments, which we haven't had to worry about in the past going into May and June.


Do you plan to make any compositional changes as the meet goes from one season to another?

Right now, we're going to manage the track through maintenance. As we're doing that, we're conducting tests with Mick Peterson (Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory) and the Soil and Plant Laboratory (in business since the 1940s).


Are track biases real or imagined?

My number one focus always has been and always will be on safety and consistency. Everything else comes after that. The most important thing is a safe racetrack. Are there biases? I don't know. We do the same thing day to day. I don't know that there's really been enough study to say if it's one way or another.


Do fast times alarm you?

Yes, they do to the point that if they are coming back sound, you look to see what kind of horses they are. Good horses run fast and a cheaper horse will run fast now and then.


A sealed track is something a lot of horsemen don't like. Are there any other options for a dirt track when rain is on the way?

A lot of times you're put in a tough spot, and you've got to protect the racetrack. You just have to seal it.


Can a surface be changed in the middle of a racing program?

You can change your depth of the cushion. If you had a sealed track and a forecast of rain is gone,  you can open it up a little and give them more cushion.


What is the biggest misperception people have of a track superintendent?

Where should I start? You always hear stories of guys fixing tracks to create Pick Six carryovers, and if I had figured that out you and I wouldn't be talking right now. I've seen, and I'm talking years and years ago, where horses on the inside were blowing dust and a horse plodding through mud on the far outside would win.


It's always amazed me that if a trainer likes the track they like you. If they don't like the track you're a (expletive). It doesn't matter what kind of person you are.


I enjoy the business and, for the most part, I enjoy the horsemen. I don't have a problem talking to them. Some of these guys want to yell and scream and cuss. I don't listen to that any more. Bobby Frankel and I used to have some pretty good rows. I had a lot of respect for Bobby, and I think the feeling the mutual.


You've worked on all types of surfaces. Do you have a favorite?

One that's always safe. As long as it's safe, I don't have a preference. That's the one thing (Santa Anita chairman) Keith Brackpool wants, and he doesn't care what it takes.


What are your thoughts on synthetic tracks?

In the beginning, I think I had a little bit of an edge on synthetics because of the experience with Equitrack. I learned an awful lot. It was a 55-day meet and I worked 22 or 25 days around the clock to get it to work, and we never lost a day of racing.


When Equitrack was at its best, I never saw a surface like that. But the weather dictated how it would play. The intention behind synthetics was good. I think we needed to spend more time on research and working with them before putting them in. Cushion Track at Hollywood Park really turned out to be a good and safe and fair surface. Somebody should buy that surface and install it.


How is the expansion of Los Alamitos going?

It's going well. We're ahead of schedule. The plan is to have the track open Jan. 22.


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