04/24/2008 12:00AM

Del Mar decides to water Polytrack this summer


Del Mar will regularly add water to its Polytrack synthetic surface during the upcoming summer meeting in an effort to keep the course uniform from mornings to afternoons, the track's director of racing, Tom Robbins, said on Wednesday. The Del Mar meeting runs from July 16 to Sept. 3.

The decision to begin a watering program is a reversal of a policy in place last summer, the first year that the track raced on a Polytrack surface. In accordance with the recommendation of Polytrack's manufacturer, Martin Collins, the track was not watered during the race meeting. That decision drew criticism from horsemen and bettors because of differences in the way the course performed from morning training to afternoon racing. The track was noticeably slower in the afternoon than during training.

Several horsemen asked last summer that water be added to the track, but management refused. At the time, the track's president, Joe Harper, said, "I won't mess with it until after the meeting is over."

Earlier this month, the Polytrack surface was refurbished to add wax. Robbins said tests were conducted over four 150-foot plots, adding different amounts of wax and different materials. The most basic test, adding one application of wax, was the one chosen for the entire surface, he said.

Robbins said the applied wax is "a different type of wax that will react a little differently than the original wax that was put in. It will be less sensitive to the warm climate. We've definitely found that it cools down the material and holds it together better.

"Our goal is to lessen the difference between afternoon and morning. I'm cautiously optimistic that the additional water will be pretty helpful. We want to get there and not sacrifice safety."

Robbins said Del Mar tried watering the track after the renovation earlier this month when the temperature was in the low 90s.

"We put some water down and it behaved very well," he said.

Because the Del Mar racetrack grounds host the massive San Diego County Fair in late June and early July, the stretch portion of the track has been covered. The fair ends on July 6, and the first horses will be able to train on the surface on July 10.

The amount of water needed is unknown, and will be the subject of tests on the backstretch in June when temperatures rise to more summer-like conditions.

"We can set up some good experiments in June when we get closer to the meeting," Robbins said.