Polytrack Debuts Successfully at Del Mar

Polytrack Debuts Successfully at Del Mar
Photo: Benoit
Opening day for Del Mar's new Polytrack synthetic racing surface.
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Trainer T.R. (Ray) Bell II and jockey Jon Court had never received so much attention for capturing a maiden event as they did when Special Smoke became the first horse to win a race over Del Mar’s new Polytrack racing surface July 18.

“I had a very optimistic view of it going in,” Bell said of the synthetic surface. “I think it played true.”

Betty and Robert G. Irvin’s Special Smoke came from behind to defeat five other California-bred 3-year-old fillies. The daughter of Free House--Neeshanha, by Smart Strike, used that same style when finishing fourth over Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track in her racing debut.

“I think this has a little more resilience to it, at least at this stage,” Bell said in comparing the Polytrack to the Cushion Track. “The horses seem to get a hold of it. As long as it’s a safe surface and the horses come back in good shape, I could give a damn about bias.”

Del Mar opened its 2007 meeting with the new Polytrack surface, which was installed earlier this year. The California Horse Racing Board, in a move designed to improved safety, mandated that all major state tracks install a synthetic surface by 2008. Del Mar followed Hollywood as the second Southern California track to do so. Santa Anita is currently installing a Cushion Track surface in time for the Oak Tree Racing Association meeting this fall.

“I am thrilled and so happy to see this be a reality,” said CHRB Chairman Richard Shapiro just before Del Mar’s first race on Polytrack. Shapiro has been a major force behind the push for synthetic surfaces in California. “Sure, we’re going to have adjustments to make, and it’s not going to be perfect. But it’s better for the horses.”

Del Mar’s Polytrack consists of silica sand, rubber, fibers and wax. More wax and fiber were added before horses began training regularly over the surface earlier this month, and then further adjustments were made after the surface seemed a little firm July 16.

“It was actually set up for a little warmer day (July 16),” said Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. “You have to kind of second-guess where the temperature is going to be. It was a cooler morning than anticipated. They probably set it a little firmer than they wanted. The riders I talked to that day said the horses were getting a hold of it fine. It was just a little harder. But it’s harder Polytrack; it’s not harder dirt.”

Jockey Court, who won aboard Special Smoke, described the surface as “equine friendly.” Asked about kickback, he said that while he has never seen a track that doesn’t have kickback, the Polytrack kickback is also “friendly.”

“A natural surface has a tendency to pelt you a little more,” Court said. “I’m delighted with the surface.”

Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella agreed with Bell and Court after he won the day’s second Polytrack race with Kanan Dume, a 2-year-old son of Malibu Moon  —Trishyde, by Nureyev.

“I love it,” Mandella said. “I loved it before we ran. Horses are going great over it in the morning. They don’t dig big holes in the surface. One of the things I thought was impressive about it at Keeneland was when they dig a hole, it will fill back in. It has a memory.”

Special Smoke ran six furlongs in 1:13.95 to establish Del Mar’s first track record with Polytrack. The previous six-furlong mark on the conventional dirt surface was 1:07 3/5. Kanan Dume ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:06.85, compared to the previous mark of 1:02 1/5.

“The times are a little slower, but who cares?” Mandella said.

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