Racing Surface Drawing Rave Reviews From Horsemen

Lone Star Park's main track is in its best condition ever, according to several horsemen who have been stabled in Grand Prairie, Texas for several weeks.

The 10th annual 66-date Spring Thoroughbred Season commences Thursday night at 6:35 p.m. for an action-packed 15-week run through Sunday, July 23.

"We really like what we've seen so far," said Bret Calhoun, the second-leading trainer at last year's meet. "You can walk across it and tell it's a complete different track this year. You can pick up the soil in your hand, squeeze it, and it binds."

Calhoun was especially impressed with the track's recovery from a late-March deluge.
"It already passed a pretty good acid test a few weeks ago when we had that nine inches of rain," he said. "Within two days it was in perfect condition. In past years it might have been in poor condition for a week."
Mr. Sandman
The high marks must come as a relief, but probably not a surprise, to Lone Star's new director of track maintenance, George McDermott, who was hired in October for one purpose-to develop the fairest and safest surface in racing.

McDermott came to Lone Star from Harrah's Louisiana Downs, where he spent 30 years developing what was then  regarded as one of the best dirt tracks in the nation. He started at the Bossier City, La., oval in 1975, became assistant track superintendent in 1978 and assumed chief duties there in 1991.

Proper management of a one-mile dirt course takes far more than just driving tractors and water trucks around in a circle. It's not rocket science, but when a guy like McDermott's tilling your land, it's pretty close.
McDermott has amended the soils to bring silt and clay composition back to ideal levels. He has also begun implementing organics, such as choice sand, when called for. In addition, he re-graded the main track and brought it back to optimum angles for drainage and racing.

"That guy's always up there working on it and asking you what you think of it," said Cody Autrey, who finished fifth in the 2005 trainer standings. "I think he's got it going in the right direction."

McDermott also fine-tuned the 7/8-mile turf course, which gets more use over four months than nearly any other sod in the country. Last season, 28-percent of all races at Lone Star were run over the turf. McDermott implemented an aggressive aerification program in the off-season and purchased state-of-the-art maintenance equipment.

For the first time, Lone Star will race at zero, 10 and 20 feet on the turf course this season, as opposed to zero and 20 feet in the past. The new techniques are designed to help the course maintain its health throughout the entire season.

Keeping horses sounder, longer
Top-notch racing surfaces are imperative for several reasons, the first of which is safety. With the lives of jockeys and horses at stake, anything less than the best could have dire consequences.

Veteran horsemen have long said that a new surface takes a few years to settle and it appears that Lone Star's main track, entering its 10th year of use, has finally found its groove.   

"Everybody seems to be of pretty much the same opinion; everyone thinks it's a little softer and has a little more bounce to it," said Jack Bruner, who has been stabled here since December. "My horses are coming back from their works better and that's the main thing."

That sentiment was echoed by Autrey, who has been working horses over the Lone Star track for nearly three weeks.

"It's got more bounce," Autrey said. "You can't even hear the horses go around it. Instead of being hard and fast, it's deeper. It's not a slow track, though, just deeper. I don't think you'll find anybody complaining about it."

In theory, a forgiving racetrack should translate to more starts per horse, as the recovery time necessary between races should be shorter. That, of course, means more opportunities for everyone-owners, trainers, jockeys and handicappers-to earn additional money. 

"It's definitely what we needed," Autrey said.


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