Coastal Commission Approves Del Mar Polytrack

By Tom LaMarra and Jack Shinar
The California Coastal Commission gave unanimous approval to plans by Del Mar to replace its dirt surface with synthetic Polytrack, track officials said.

The commission voted Dec. 12 on the Del Mar agricultural district plan, which was supported by the city of Del Mar. Commission staff previously recommended approval of the project.

Citing the need for improved safety of riders and horses, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club sought the switch in accordance with a California Horse Racing Board mandate for all major tracks in the state to convert to synthetic surface by 2008. Del Mar, which saw 18 horses euthanized during the seven-week 2006 meet, would be the second track to respond, following Hollywood Park.  Golden Gate Fields recently announced that it plans to install Tapeta Footings with construction starting in May 2007. 

The $8 million Del Mar project, according to commission documents, calls for removal of the top seven inches of the dirt surface and storage of the material on the practice track infield; installation of a new drainage system, rock filtration system, permeable asphalt layers, and seven inches of Polytrack material.

In addition, the track would be widened and graded in the northeast and southeast "curve" areas; an existing retaining wall and fence replaced; and landscaping improvements made. The displaced main track dirt will eventually be sold, according to the commission report.

The permit is subject to several conditions related to the environment. To ensure that nearby Stevens Creek, which collects the excess water from the seaside track, isn't contaminated by the non-toxic Polytrack material, runoff is to be collected and pumped to infield lakes for infiltration and storage. Discharges that enter Stevens Creek are to be monitored for five years to determine if the runoff meets water quality standards.

The report also notes that 90% of the water used during track maintenance would be eliminated with the installation of the synthetic surface. 

Del Mar expects to begin removing its old track in January, and the new surface, totaling 11,600 cubic yards of synthetic material, should be ready for testing by horses in March. Horses can arrive on the grounds for stabling on July 9, according to track spokesman Mac McBride, with Del Mar's 2007 live race meet to begin July 18. It was unclear what effect the new track surface would have on the San Diego County Fair, which uses the racetrack grounds extensively. It runs from June 9 to July 4 this year.

Joe Harper, Del Mar's president, Craig Fravel, executive vice president, and Tom Robbins, vice president of racing, could not be reached for comment Dec. 12.

McBride said Polytrack should help keep Del Mar among the nation's leading tracks.

"It all flows from the horses, and if they are safe and healthy ... everything else is good," McBride said.

Polytrack, a blend of fiber, sand, rubber, and wax, is currently in place for racing purposes at Keeneland and Turfway Park in Kentucky and Woodbine in Ontario, Canada.