Polytrack Gets First Stakes Test on Kentucky Cup Day

Turfway Park president and CEO Bob Elliston spoke to members of the national turf media about Saturday's Kentucky Cup Day Festival.

A day that has seen such horses as Point Given, Vindication, and Roses in May in years past will be held for the first time on the Florence, Ky., oval's new synthetic Polytrack surface.

Elliston called the fields "well-matched," and said that though few marquee names are likely to battle in the five featured stakes races, no fewer than eight entrants would run in each of the added-money contests--including an overflow field for the headlining $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. III).

A total of $725,000 will be up for grabs in the five races, which include the $175,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Stakes (gr. III), $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes (gr. III), $100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III), and $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Elliston praised his partners in the Polytrack venture--Keeneland and Harrah's--for having "had the vision, and quite frankly, the guts" to pioneer what he said would be the industry norm in 20 years.

"If a company like Del Mar is considering the surface, that should tell you about the therapeutic benefits," Elliston said.

Speaking via teleconference, Elliston made the case for the new surface that has met with near-universal approval from horsemen for the last few years in Europe, and during the last year at Keeneland's training track.

On the question of track bias, Elliston said the surface played fair for all types of runners.

"We're proud to say that it has lived up to it's billing as nearly bias-free," said Elliston. "We have been watching carefully and it is playing very fair. Front-end runners, stalkers, mid-pack, and those coming from out of the clouds are winning. It has been rare in the past for runners coming from 10, 12, 15 lengths to get up at Turfway."

Elliston said the all-weather track was both a "system and a surface," complete with a vertical drainage and piping system that sends moisture out of the track rather than into the infield from pressing the moisture and banking the strip itself.

The surface consists of a seven-inch layer atop the drainage substructure comprised of silica sand, polypropylene fibers, and recycled rubber--all coated in a polymer wax.

Elliston said that in addition to saving the track lost days in the winter months, 11 last year alone, the surface is kinder to the horses, thus offering fans and horsemen alike the potential for larger fields.

"The welfare of the animal was in the front of Keeneland's mind," said Elliston. "If horses run more often, and stay sound, of course this is good business--but it's also the right thing to do."

West Coast trainer Nick Canani, who will send out Mambo Train in the Classic, said he brought his 4-year-old Kingmambo colt to the track a week early.

"I've been hearing that it's a little on the tiring side," said Canani.
(Mambo Train fired a bullet with a brisk five-furlong breeze in 1:00.80 Saturday).

Elliston said Turfway's traditionally steep banking has given way to a 2.5% grade that is "nearly imperceptible to the eye." He said a significant number of horses in the meet's first five days have won from the far outside posts.

Asked about the surface's kick-back or spray from horses in front, Elliston said what appears to the eye on a television screen is different on the track itself.

"What you're seeing on the video isn't dust, but fiber, the lightest of matter on the track. It is fluffy like dust, but it has no impact on a horses -- they run right through it."

Turfway is experimenting with maintenance, specifically watering the system to eliminate the spray.

Elliston said "a number of very accomplished turf horses" were looking at the $350,000 purse of the Classic, calling the Polytrack a "meeting in the middle for pure dirt and pure turf horses."

In addition to Canani, national trainers Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, and Patrick Biancone are expected to try out the Polytrack.