At Turfway, Polytrack Remains a Work in Progress

Business is way up, and catastrophic injuries are way down. But Turfway Park officials aren't surprised their new Polytrack surface is a work in progress.

"It's good to be first on some things, but sometimes it's bad," Turfway president Bob Elliston said. "We're interested in getting (the synthetic surface) perfect. We'll keep experimenting on how best we can do that."

On Feb. 25, jockeys, track officials, and Kentucky chief steward John Veitch huddled in the jockeys' room after the eighth race to discuss the surface. To the eye, the kickback was more pronounced and there appeared to be some clumping; the jockeys who called the meeting told officials the track seemed different than it had several days before.

"Some of the fiber was sitting on top of the surface, and it got colder, so it was flying a little more than normal," Elliston said. "The surface was a little looser. We asked them if the surface was unsafe, and they said it wasn't. They were just providing feedback."

Officials did discover a rock the size of a golf ball near the finish line, but Elliston said it was either tossed onto the surface or left behind by a piece of maintenance equipment.

"At first there was some concern something was working its way up from the base, but I don't think that was the case," said Kentucky Horse Racing Authority executive director Jim Gallagher, who was notified of the situation by Veitch.

The temperature dropped noticeably through the afternoon Feb. 25. Elliston suggested the situation could have been a function of weather.

"When it gets cold rapidly, it gets a little loose," he said of the Polytrack, a combination of polypropylene fibers, recycled rubber, and silica sand coated in wax. "One possibility may be to add wax in the summer, but we haven't definitely determined what needs to be done."

No two Polytrack surfaces are the same, and proponents last year indicated the Turfway surface may have to be tweaked at some point. Trainers indicated, however, the surface is much better than the old dirt surface.

Despite the flurry of activity, racing went on as scheduled through the weekend and the surface as usual showed no bias. Fractional times were typical of the level of competition.

In the $50,000 Valdale Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile Feb. 25, Gail Hughes and Gerald Selbach's Classical Ryder continued to show her affinity for the surface with her fourth win in as many lifetime starts, all on the Polytrack. Classical Ryder, a Brahms filly trained by Don Hughes Sr. and ridden by Eddie Martin, debuted at Turfway in December for a $15,000 tag and won the Valdale with a sharp late run from far back.

In the day's eighth race, a maiden special weight test, trainer Michael Dickinson was on hand to see Marsh Side, a 3-year-old colt by Gone West out of the Pleasant Colony mare Colonial Play, impressively win his career debut from off the pace in the one-mile event. The colt, who has been training at Turfway since January, is owned by Robert Evans.

Marsh Side was ridden by Julien Leparoux, who tops the Turfway meet and national standings with 106 wins since Jan. 1.

On the business side, total handle at the winter/spring meet is up more than 80%. Elliston said it's a function of several things, including an increased number of races because there haven't been any cancellations, and the fact New York City Off-Track Betting Corp. is importing the signal again. However, Elliston said he believes most of the increase is tied to Polytrack in terms of larger fields and more competitive racing.