Churchill Downs Inc.’s Arlington Park apparently is poised to announce that it has chosen Polytrack for its new synthetic surface, preparations for which already are well underway at the Chicago-area track.
Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, which handles North American distribution of the Polytrack material, said on Wednesday that he could not comment in detail.
“That’s Arlington’s announcement to make,” Nicholson said.
“We were told today that we were close,” said Arlington Director of Communications Dan Leary, who responded to an inquiry directed to track President Roy Arnold about the decision. “We should have an announcement fairly soon.”
However, Maryland-based trainer Michael Dickinson, whose Tapeta Footings also was a contender for the Arlington project, said he had been notified by Arnold that Polytrack had been chosen. Cushion Track, the synthetic surface used at Hollywood Park, also was considered early in the Arlington selection process.
“We’ve been in a very close race with Keeneland for the last four weeks,” Dickinson said, referring to his Tapeta product. “On several occasions, we thought were on the lead, but when it came down to the wire, we were beaten a nose. We know we have the best product, but in the end, we lost out to politics.”
Churchill Downs Inc. officials were involved in the decision making, Leary said, after the projected expenditure of $10-million was approved by the CDI board of directors. Steve Sexton, executive vice president of CDI and president of Churchill Downs racetrack, was not available for comment.
Arlington will serve as a test site for a synthetic surface before others might be installed at CDI tracks, including the flagship Louisville facility, Arnold indicated during a press conference in early December. It was not immediately clear whether a Polytrack deal through Keeneland would include incentives for other track installations or other possible enticements such as simulcast rate deals.
Polytrack has been installed at Keeneland, Turfway Park, and Woodbine Racetrack and has been chosen for Del Mar, where mixing of the raw materials for the surface began Jan. 6. Tapeta will be installed at Golden Gate Fields this summer and also has been laid down at Godolphin’s Al Quoz training center in Dubai and the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.
Dickinson, who holds the patent on the general synthetic surface product in the United States after inventing Tapeta in the late 1990s, believes, as does Nicholson, that the surfaces are safer for racehorses and result in fewer breakdowns. There have been some maintenance issues with Polytrack at Woodbine and Turfway, with a large number of horse ambulance runs reported at the latter track since November.
Cushion Track also has provided some maintenance challenges. So far, Dickinson said his surface has responded well at temperatures ranging up to 120 degrees in Dubai and down to five degrees at Fair Hill.
Despite a recent cold blast in Chicago, preparation work continues on the track renovation, with workmen currently digging trenches for the drainage system needed by any synthetic surface, Leary said.
“We’re still on schedule,” he added, despite the fact that no official announcement has been made about the surface provider. Arlington has planned for the new surface to be ready by April 1, about a month before the racing season begins on May 4.