Keeneland Continues Planning for Polytrack

Though it hasn't made an official decision on whether to install Polytrack on its main dirt track, the board of directors of Keeneland directed management Oct. 12 to continue with the planning, design, and engineering for the synthetic surface.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson has said installation of Polytrack, already in place on the Lexington facility's training track, is a possibility, perhaps sometime in 2006. In a statement after the board meeting, he said: "It's the desire of the board for Keeneland to have the finest racing surface in the world. The surface should be the safest possible for both horse and rider, and it should provide the best overall racing experience."

Polytrack, a blend of fiber, recycled rubber, and silica sand coated with wax, was installed at Turfway Park and used for the first time during the Northern Kentucky track's 22-day summer/fall meet. The surface was widely accepted, with complaints centering on kickback during races and horses coughing for short periods after races.

There were no breakdowns during the meet, and the surface was fair. Horses in a stalking position won 49% of sprints and 42% of races at one mile or more, while front-runners won 31% of sprints and 34% of races at one mile or more.

Turfway expects to save about $500,000 a year in track maintenance costs, said track president Bob Elliston, who gave a Polytrack presentation Oct. 12 during the National Thoroughbred Racing Association annual meeting in Lexington. He said installation of Polytrack, as well as addition of a safety rail and improvements to the winner's circle and paddock, cost $5 million to $6 million.

When asked about the life expectancy of Polytrack, Elliston said: "I'm not sure. I only have to go on what has happened in Europe, where some of the gallops have been in place for 10 to 12 years. We're basing our economic model on eight to 10 years."

Elliston said in the last six weeks, about 12 racetrack representatives visited Turfway to see Polytrack first hand. Del Mar in Southern California is among the tracks considering its installation. Others have decided to wait to see how the surface holds up during winter conditions at Turfway before a decision is made.