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Turfway's 2nd Anniversary Of 1st US Synthetic Track

Thursday, 6th September 2007

Meanwhile the opening early this morning (Australia time) of the 22-day meeting at Turfway Park "marked the 2-year anniversary of the debut of Polytrack at the northern Kentucky course, the 1st facility in North America to install a synthetic surface for racing," noted bloodhorse.com. The surface (save for maintenance & some "tweaking" of content) "is about as even from the inner rail to the outer rail today as it was in 2005". Turfway "has served as a laboratory of sorts", but officials believe "they're got more data & a better surface". Importantly, during the past 2 winters "track management realised temperature does play a role in synthetic-surface racing: problems with the surface (primarily clodding & sticking) led to replacement of the top layer & experimentation with different types of wax" (1 of the components of Polytrack). Turfway president Bob Elliston commented: "We don't have it all figured out yet, but we're much smarter today. Most every single day, it's an extremely safe racing surface. We had no catastrophic breakdowns this summer (during off-season training) & I think that speaks to delineating what's most important about the surface. If anybody is debating the safety of the surface, I think that's all wet!" Statistics for facilities with Polytrack "show a marked decline in catastrophic breakdowns". However there have been complaints about synthetic surfaces "not playing the same in the afternoon as they do in the morning; unconfirmed reports of an increase in soft-tissue injuries; a general slowing-down of horses & changes in the way races are run; & a shift away from early speed that has confounded & alienated handicappers". As far as wagering goes, "the numbers don't indicate handicappers are shying away: Turfway, Arlington, Del Mar, Keeneland & Hollywood Park experienced handle growth after the switch to synthetic surfaces". Fractional & final times on some synthetic surfaces "have been slower than usual at first, but in many cases they have rebounded as the surfaces settle". Elliston summed up: "At our 1st meet with Polytrack, the track was a little slow: they were going 6 furlongs in 1min 14sec & 1min 15sec. But most people here said: I'm not worried about speed, I'm worried about the safety of the horses. I think our ability to provide a consistent surface has made everyone more comfortable. We probably overestimated the simplicity with which we could maintain Polytrack, but we've still seen more than 40% reduction in labor, materials & time associated with maintenance." Once a day, a Gallop Master machine is used to "fluff the top 2.5-3 inches of material"; twice a month, a "power harrow" is used to mix the top 5 inches of material; & once a month, a roto-tiller follows the harrowing machine.

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