Woodbine Has Plan to Address Polytrack Problems

Woodbine, which experienced problems with its Polytrack surface in cold weather last year and before the start of its meet in late March, hopes to address the issues during a two-step process that will begin in May.

On March 31, opening day, the surface produced slow times and kickback that appeared to hinder late runners. Rain that arrived the next day seemed to reduce the kickback.

Polytrack, which cost $10 million to install and was unveiled at the end of last summer, is billed as an all-weather surface. But cold temperatures have continued to cause the fibers and wax in the surface to separate.

“When we first put this track down and starting racing on it, it was an exceptional surface, but as we got into cold weather, it was hard to keep in great racing form,” said Jim Ormiston, executive vice president at Woodbine in Canada.

Ormiston said the surface had deteriorated because the quality of wax in the Polytrack wasn’t as good as it should have been. Due to the high price of oil, he said, the wax companies cut down on the amount of material used for the surface.

“It isn’t an issue if you’re installing Polytrack in California, where temperatures are high, but for more northern climates, particularly with us since we have such a long season, we get into more extreme weather conditions, and that tends to show you some of the problems with the product,” Ormiston said.

David Willmot, Woodbine’s chairman and chief executive officer, said track management recently met with the makers of the surface, Martin Collins and Keeneland, who in turn agreed to help fix the problems. In mid-May, the surface will be re-waxed with a substance containing a higher content of oil.

“We liked how the Keeneland main track was performing,” Ormiston said of the Lexington racetrack that installed Polytrack for its 2006 fall meet. “It has stayed together and hasn’t frozen up (in cold weather). The consensus is that we’re going to modify the Woodbine track so it’s a lot more like Keeneland.

“We think that will resolve most of the issues with respect to kickback and tightness of the track. Probably in early August, we’ll go back in and apply some other material and jelly cable, which is a component in the Keeneland track. It seems to hold the track together in colder weather and transition periods.”

The Polytrack at Turfway Park in Kentucky underwent similar revisions last summer. However, consistent temperatures in the teens and 20s this winter during live racing negatively impacted the surface. Officials tried different ways to maintain and work the surface.

Ormiston said Woodbine and Keeneland would work together to fund the project.

“There’s some warranty and some new money,” he said. “We have a really good relationship (with Keeneland). One of the reasons we went into this is because we believe in Martin and the Keeneland product, and we’re still committed to it. We think we have a good product, and we’ll have a great product once we get these little glitches sorted out.”

Willmot and Ormiston are confident work on the surface won’t cause a disruption of racing because most of it will take place on dark days.

Arlington Park in Illinois and Del Mar in Southern California will begin using Polytrack surfaces when their meets begin in May and July, respectively, this year.