Upcoming Breeders' Cup Sites Installing Dirt
Photo: Keeneland Photo
Track renovations at Keeneland

When Del Mar and Keeneland host their first Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the two tracks will both be relying on relatively new dirt surfaces as their main tracks.

Breeders’ Cup officials announced June 24 that Keeneland will welcome the world championships next year while Del Mar will host the event in 2017. Keeneland currently is switching its Polytrack surface to dirt, which will be ready for this year’s fall meeting in October; while Del Mar will conduct its final Polytrack meetings this year and install dirt in time for 2015 racing.

While Breeders’ Cup has not conducted its world championships on a track with a synthetic surface since 2009, its officials said a dirt surface is not a requirement of host sites. Breeders’ Cup chairman Bill Farish said his organization did not encourage Keeneland to return to dirt as part of landing the world championships.

“On the Breeders’ Cup side of things, we have never let the track surface enter into whether a host site gets the Breeders’ Cup or not,” said Breeders’ Cup chairman Bill Farish. “That was completely a decision made by Keeneland and in no way influenced by Breeders’ Cup.”

Breeders’ Cup president Craig Fravel said the organization only makes sure that surfaces are safe and fair.

But in a conference call, Del Mar president Joe Harper acknowledged that while it may not have been the main reason for the switch, track officials thought changing from the Polytrack installed before the 2007 meet back to dirt would help the track’s chances of landing a Breeders’ Cup.

“Our decision to go back to dirt was not based on the Breeders’ Cup; it certainly was a factor,” Harper said. “But the major factor for us was that Hollywood Park had gone away from their synthetic surface, Santa Anita had gone back to dirt. Being the only track on the Southern California circuit with a synthetic surface, we had concerns for safety.”

Keeneland officials said the Lexington track’s decision to remove the synthetic surface that was unveiled for the 2006 fall meet and return to dirt was not related to landing a Breeders’ Cup.

“We would be doing it anyway,” said Keeneland president Bill Thomason. “This research has been going on a long time. The decision was not made for the Breeders’ Cup. It was made for a number of other reasons.”

Thomason said when Keeneland installed its synthetic surface, the track believed North America’s other top tracks would follow that lead. By mandate, all three Southern California tracks would add synthetic surfaces by 2007, but the worm has turned, and that circuit will completely return to dirt when Del Mar removes its Polytrack.

Thomason said with top horses racing on dirt at Churchill Downs and in New York, Southern California, and Florida, it would be unfair to the horses to ask that they make the transition to Polytrack at Keeneland.

“Keeneland would have been the only U.S. track with grade I races on a synthetic surface in 2015,” Thomason said. 

Farish is confident Keeneland and Del Mar will make a smooth transition.

“We have a tremendous amount of confidence in Keeneland to be able to put the best possible surface in,” Farish said, adding that the 2015 Breeders’ Cup will come at the end of the third meet on the new surface. “That gives us even more confidence. We’ll be involved with them in helping to make sure that surface is as good as it possibly can be. But they have been studying this for a long time. I’d be very surprised if they don’t get it right.”

Farish said part of the reason Del Mar will host the event in 2017 instead of 2016 is to allow the track some time to work with its new surface.

Santa Anita Park hosted the Breeders' Cup in 2012 after switching in 2010 from a synthetic surface back to dirt.

Keeneland works on installing their state of the art dirt track:

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