New Turfway Surface Well Received, But Test Comes This Winter

The Polytrack experiment at Turfway Park was deemed a success--especially for safety reasons--at the conclusion of the 22-day summer/fall meet, though the Northern Kentucky racetrack expects to get a more accurate picture of the synthetic surface during its four-month fall/winter meet that begins in late November and runs through early April.

When the 22-day meet ended Oct. 6, there hadn't been one breakdown during training or racing, track president Bob Elliston said. Ten horses didn't finish during the meet but for reasons other than catastrophic injury. Last year, there were 21 "DNFs," three of which were breakdowns.

"There were a few soft tissue injuries, one bowed tendon, and a horse eased at the wire," Elliston said. "But the horse van didn't come onto the racetrack in the morning. It has been a wonderful success."

The new surface played very fair during the meet, with no apparent bias. Polytrack surfaces are mixed to suit certain climates, and the Turfway surface was made for cold-weather racing. In addition, there was very little rain in September, so the surface didn't get much of a chance to settle.

Jockeys and trainers noticed higher-than-expected kickback, as well as horses coughing after races. "We sought out veterinarians and horsemen who said they recognized some slight nasal irritation that triggered coughs, but it didn't migrate to the lungs," Elliston said. "We're actually finding far less eye irritation and stuff down in the lungs."

Jockey Bill Troilo said the Polytrack surface is kinder on horses, though "some horses handle it good, and some need a race over it." Troilo said the kickback is more extreme than had been expected, and he wants to see how it plays in the winter.

"There are always adjustments to be made," Troilo said. "There are a lot of positives, and we haven't hadn't any rain this fall. The few times we've had rain in the morning, there have been puddles on the track. It's a little slow to drain, but it still drains a lot better than a regular (dirt) track."

"Some horses like it and improve, but some don't meet their full potential on it," jockey Jeff Johnston said. "But it seems as even as anything. The kickback isn't that big a deal, because I remember what it was like last year. It was like concrete and it hurt horses' eyes. I like the track—it has made it fun to ride again."

Said trainer Eduardo Caramori: "I like it, but a lot of people are saying a lot of different things, and I think it's too early (to make a judgment). I do think it's a fair racetrack."

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the new surface overall has been a "positive influence," though there are some things that may need to be modified.

"What's really going to be important is how the track reacts to adverse weather in the winter," Maline said. "That's when I think it will really prove its mettle."

On the business side, on-track handle on live racing and simulcasts was up 2.1%, but total handle on Turfway races from off-track sources dropped 11.8%. The track attributed the decline to its decision not to send the signal to secondary pari-mutuel operations, or rebate shops.

Despite a brief "boycott" at the entry box the first week, field size averaged 8.68 per race, up from 8.48 at last year's summer/fall meet. Purses average $177,299 a day, up a bit from $176,486 last year.  

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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