11/02/2011 3:07PM

Breeders' Cup: No complaints about turf course


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In stark contrast to 2010, this Breeders’ Cup week has so far been a no-drama turf-a-rama.

A year ago, the connections of Turf favorite Workforce began issuing complaints about the condition of the Churchill grass course early Breeders’ Cup week. No doubt, the course was harder than desired because of a prolonged Louisville drought. But watering did not help, either. Workforce wound up being scratched Saturday morning, despite whatever efforts might’ve been made to soften the course, and several jockeys and trainers complained of grass slicked up by water that stayed on the turf’s surface, rather than soaking underground.

Churchill track superintendent Butch Lehr, buffeted this way and that a year ago, has had a calmer week. Other than some Europeans walking the course while it was still covered in frost, and thus potentially harming the grass, the overseas contingent has stayed out of Lehr’s way. In great part, that’s because of Mother Nature. Drought in 2010 has been replaced by ample rainfall this autumn.

“Usually, the weather makes all the difference, and this year we didn’t have a drought,” Lehr said Wednesday morning just before the beginning of turf works.

The turf was firm for racing Wednesday, and Euros who had been on the course termed it good-to-firm. Teddy Grimthorpe is racing manager for Juddmonte Farms, the owner of Workforce and 2011 Turf entrant Sea Moon. Grimthorpe made his first Churchill appearance Wednesday and said the grass this year would be suitable for Sea Moon.

“It’s certainly not rock-hard like it was last year,” Grimthorpe said.

If the local forecast holds, the turf might wind up on the soft side of good before Breeders’ Cup races begin: As much as 1 1/2 inches of rain could fall Thursday and Thursday night. Lehr said that such an amount could trigger the use of Churchill’s underground vacuum drainage system, which basically sucks water out of the course.

Whatever methods Lehr employs are meant to benefit the general population, not an individual.

“We can’t change the course for one horse,” he said. “I’m trying to make things fair for everyone.