Dirt Tracks Are Catching on in Great Britain

Britain has just three racecourses that stage dirt racing (known as all-weather), but one of them has a surface which "rides like a velvet carpet," according to jockey Martin Dwyer.

The decision by Lingfield Park in Surrey to replace its long-standing Equitrack surface with Polytrack toward the end of last year at a reported cost of £3 million, has met with almost universal praise. That was echoed at the all-weather championships dinner, sponsored by Betdirect, in London April 23.

Dwyer is well-qualified to comment on the Lingfield surface as he finished second in the all-weather jockeys' championship (Nov. 13, 2001, to March 27, 2002) with 42 winners. After he accepted his £8,000 prize, Dwyer said: "The Polytrack is better than turf at the end of a season, and if horses do not go on it, they won't go on anything."

The two other racecourses with dirt racing are Wolverhampton and Southwell, both of which have Fibresand surfaces. They, like Lingfield, are owned by the ambitious company Arena Leisure, which is heavily involved in the attheraces consortium.

The quality of racing on dirt at Lingfield in particular, but also at the other two courses, has improved considerably, and there is pressure on Arena Leisure to introduce Polytrack at the other two courses. However, Ian Renton, Arena's director of racing, could give no guidance on whether this will happen.

Even though Lingfield is staging more valuable races, such as the £50,000 event that was meant to attract Ireland's Kentucky Derby hopeful Johannesburg April 6, it would not be a suitable home for a Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

However, major British courses like Newbury and Newcastle, which have somewhere near the right grandstand capacities for a Cup, are interested in building dirt tracks, and they would almost certainly lay the Polytrack surface.