New Surface At Sportsman's Park To Be Tested

Even while bulldozers and construction crews work to make Sportsman's Park accommodate auto racing, a small corner of the Stickney, Ill., facility will remain the preserve of the Thoroughbred horse.

On Sept. 30, Sportsman's Park officials unveiled a 200-foot-long, 70-foot-wide "mock- up" of a new Thoroughbred racing surface. The revolutionary design is intended to let Sportsman's Park go back and forth between auto racing and horse racing as the seasons change, starting in the year 2000.

To accomplish that, the track will be installed for horse racing and removed for auto racing. When it's in place, part of the horse racing track will be laid over the asphalt of the auto track. While that sounds problematic at best, Churchill Downs track superintendent Raymond (Butch) Lehr said it not only will work, but eventually could become a model for the industry. Lehr is as a consultant on the project.

"Many tracks around the country experience problems with the(base) of their (racing surfaces)," Lehr said. "I can assure you the new track at Sportsman's Park will have a base that, in my opinion, will be second to none. The design of the track from the bottom up will have no room for flaws in the base or the possibility of losing the base."

The mock-up strip passed its first test later in the day, when rains hit the Chicago area. "The water was coming out of the weep holes at the bottom of the drainage mat, just like it was supposed to," Sportsman's Park track superintendent Albert Jozwiak said.

The reconfiguration also will permit Sportsman's Park to smooth out the hairpin turns that have been a hallmark for decades and to eliminate the high banking of those turns.

Joe Kasperski, head of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, has said he is pleased that Sportsman's Park is making an effort to retain horse racing. "I'm a horseman, so I'm skeptical," Kasperski said. "But I'm willing to take a look and see what they're doing."

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