02/09/2007 1:00AM

A crack in Polytrack shows up


Turfway Park canceled its racing program Thursday night after two races, marking the fifth full or partial cancellation at the Florence, Ky., track since the winter-spring meet began Jan. 1.

Last year, the first winter-spring meet during which Turfway used Polytrack, there were no cancellations. Turfway president Bob Elliston said Friday morning the latest cancellation was made in consultation with jockeys, with the official reason being "frigid temperatures that made conditions unsuitable for racing."

Asked for more detail, Elliston said a new mix of ingredients in Polytrack, in conjunction with harsher winter weather, are the main reasons for the sudden spike in cancellations. Indeed, Polytrack, the synthetic surface that claims weather resistance as one of its defining characteristics, has not been impervious to the particularly cold weather that has engulfed the greater Cincinnati region this winter.

Veteran jockey Dean Butler, who won three races on the Wednesday night program and the first of the two Thursday races, said a serious problem persists with the Polytrack surface clinging to and "balling up" in horses' hooves.

"When I came back to the winner's circle [Thursday] night, it was like my horse was standing on stilts," said Butler. "Every horse I looked at, it was the same way. For some reason, the Polytrack is packing in their feet and doesn't want to come out."

To attempt to alleviate the "balling up" problem, many horsemen are using non-adhesive sprays such as Pam or WD-40 on their horses' hooves before a race, but it's a band-aid solution, said Butler.

Last fall, in an attempt to reduce kickback and slightly quicken the surface, Turfway altered the composition of the top two-inch layer of Polytrack to include more wax, sand, and smaller rubber bits. The original recipe, which still lies just beneath the top layer, used a higher percentage of carpet fibers and larger rubber bits and a lower percentage of wax and sand.

Butler said the new mix is "Spandex-y and waxy" and that "we sure didn't have this problem last winter. I know they were trying to do the right thing, but in my opinion when they changed the track, unfortunately they did the wrong thing."

Elliston said he and officials with Turfway's parent track, Keeneland, are working diligently on a solution. Asked whether he was frustrated with having to cancel so frequently this winter, Elliston said: "I am to a degree, but obviously I can't control this weather. What I'm not frustrated with is that we still have an extremely safe surface. I'm also not frustrated with the communication we continue to have about these issues with our jockeys and horsemen. That continues to be positive and productive."

Turfway canceled once during its holiday meet in December because of a blown transformer. Besides Thursday, the cancellations during the current winter-spring meet came Jan. 21 (entire program), Jan. 28 (after two races), and Feb. 3 and 4 (entire programs). The winter-spring meet runs through April 5.

Brass Hat on the mend

Brass Hat, the venerable gelding who at this time last year was the toast of Turfway after sweeping the New Orleans and Donn handicaps, continues to recuperate well from an ankle injury, trainer Buff Bradley said last week.

Brass Hat suffered a fractured sesamoid in his right front ankle during a workout in early July but has made progress in the months since then, said Bradley. The injury required only time, and not surgery, and after undergoing an examination by Dr. Robert Hunt last week at the Hagyard Davidson McGee equine clinic in Lexington, the fracture line is no longer visible, said Bradley.

Now 6, Brass Hat has earned more than $1.2 million and would have earned another $1.2 million last March if he had not been disqualified from his second-place finish in the Dubai World Cup for a medication violation that Bradley and his father, Fred, have hotly disputed. Fred Bradley bred and owns Brass Hat.

Brass Hat has been walking for about an hour each day on a machine known as an Equi-gym at the Bradleys' family farm, Indian Ridge, in Frankfort, Ky.

"Dr. Hunt said we can start more serious training anytime," said Buff Bradley. "We'll probably just jog him for 45 days on the Equi-gym and give him some turnout time so he can enjoy. We probably won't return to the track until we move back to Churchill in April."

Mocha Queen looks tough Sunday

Three allowance races anchor the Sunday card at Turfway, with a $26,700 classified allowance serving as the ninth-race feature. Mocha Queen, who drew post 1 in a field of eight fillies and mares, finds her easiest spot in quite some time and figures very tough to beat in the 6 1/2-furlong race.

Also on tap for Sunday are a $22,700 allowance mile for 3-year-olds (race 7) and a $22,700 allowance sprint for fillies and mares (race 8).

o Alex Waldrop, who in December was hired as the new president of the NTRA, will speak to the Louisville Thoroughbred Club, an organization for racing fans, on Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. For more information, call (502) 394-0198 or e-mail info@thoroughbredclub.org.