02/06/2007 1:00AM

Arlington opts for Polytrack as new surface


Arlington Park outside Chicago has decided to install Polytrack, an artificial surface manufactured by a partnership including Keeneland Racecourse in Kentucky, before its 2007 meet, Arlington's president said Tuesday morning.

The selection followed several months of evaluation by Arlington officials into the best options for replacing the track's conventional dirt surface, which came under criticism last summer when a rash of breakdowns occurred over it during Arlington's summer meet. Although no definitive answer emerged as to why the breakdowns occurred, Arlington announced late last year that the track would install a synthetic surface in 2007, citing perceptions that artificial surfaces reduce injuries.

Arlington's summer meet begins on May 4, and track officials said that the project to install the artificial surface would be complete by April 23, when the track's backstretch opens. Col. Roy Arnold, Arlington's president, said that the project would cost approximately $11 million.

Polytrack, which is manufactured and marketed by a partnership of the Keeneland Association and a company owned by the substance's British inventor, Martin Collins, was selected from three bidding groups. The others were Tapeta Footings, which is owned by the British-born trainer Michael Dickinson, and Cushion Track, a British company.

The selection of Polytrack over the other bidders gives the company a clear lead in market share for artificial-surface installations in North America. By the time Arlington begins its meet, four of the five tracks using artificial surfaces in North America will have a version of Polytrack as their primary racing surface. The other, Hollywood Park, uses Cushion Track.

Arnold said that Arlington selected Polytrack principally because of Arlington's relationship to Keeneland as part of the Midwest racing circuit. Keeneland, which installed Polytrack last year, has meets in April and October that act as bookends to Arlington's summer meet.

"We felt there were additional benefits in being able to align the tracks on a circuit and keeping horses racing on a consistent surface," Arnold said. "We think we're going to have the ability to attract stables to race with us from May to September, and that those stables will find benefits to being able to ship back and forth from Keeneland."

Polytrack and other artificial racing surfaces are made of synthetic materials covered in wax that lay over porous macadam and a network of pipes. The surface materials are designed to repel water and allow moisture to drain through the surface instead of toward the rail.

Arlington has already ripped up the base of its existing track, but it must wait for warmer weather in order to lay down a layer of porous macadam. After that, 20,000 tons of surface material will be laid over the surface.

Arlington Park is owned by Churchill Downs Inc., the owner of three other tracks: Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, and Calder Race Course in Florida. The selection of Polytrack for Arlington will likely give the company a foot in the door should Churchill decide to install an artificial surface at any of its other tracks.

Dickinson, in a statement, said that he was disappointed that he did not get the Arlington contract, but pointed out that Tapeta Footings would benefit financially from the arrangement because Tapeta holds a patent on the wax-coating process that is licensed to Polytrack.

In addition to several overseas installations at training yards, Tapeta has been selected by Golden Gate Fields as its supplier when that track converts to an artificial surface later this year. Golden Gate is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp., the largest racetrack owner in the United States.