Turfway, Horsemen Play Weather Waiting Game

Much warmer temperatures are needed to thaw out ice in the Polytrack surface.

Turfway Park expects much warmer temperatures the week of Feb. 16 that will allow proper maintenance of its Polytrack surface and a return to live racing Feb. 21.

Turfway general manager Chip Bach said track officials and horsemen met the morning of Feb. 14 to discuss the synthetic surface, which contains large pieces of ice that have resulted from repeated snow and ice storms with no thawing period. They also discussed a plan to make up for some lost racing opportunities at a time of condensed racing schedules.

It's the first time in years the surface itself led to multiple cancellations of live racing.

"It was a great meeting," Bach said. "We talked about the racetrack and the rumors circulating that the track would have to shut down."

There are no plans for that, Bach said. But first the track maintenance crew must deal with about 3 1/2 inches of snow predicted for the evening of Feb. 14, followed by a temperature dip into the low teens.

"On Sunday we'll scrape off the snow, open up the surface, and wait for warmer weather," he said. "It's just a waiting game now. I spoke to (racing surface specialist) Dr. Mick Petersen and he said, 'The only solution is a better winter.' "

Turfway lost five races Feb. 8 and full cards Feb. 9 and Feb. 14-16. Bach and the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association discussed adding at least 33 races to the schedule by expanding cards from nine to 11 races and perhaps 12 if the horse population warrants.

Turfway also will use one of its optional Sundays in early March.

Purses thus far have averaged $99,809 per day during the winter/spring meet, down about 27% from the same period last year, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. Bach said cancellations generally aid the purse account, though it's too soon to say whether prize money can be increased at some point.

Meanwhile, full-card simulcasts at nearby River Downs have been suspended because of construction of a new racetrack gaming facility; the Ohio track is scheduled to reopen in May as Belterra Park. It's possible Turfway will pick up some simulcast business during the three months of down time at that track.