01/19/2007 12:00AM

Del Mar's new surface - in one big pile


DEL MAR, Calif. - In the stable area parking lot at Del Mar racetrack, Kevin Gregory is conducting a science project. He has got individual piles of sand, rubber, and two types of fibers. Every other day, a big tanker truck filled with liquid wax pulls up. On those days, from morning until night, Gregory repeatedly mixes all the ingredients in an oversized green cylinder and produces a finished product that Del Mar racetrack is hoping will help quiet years-long concern regarding the safety of its main track.

Gregory is the onsite production manager for Martin Collins, the company that will be installing its Polytrack surface this spring at Del Mar. What will become the top layer of the main track is currently a growing mound of finished product in the corner of the parking lot that, according to track spokesman Mac McBride, will weigh in at 16,000 tons before it is laid down. Gregory said he can make about 275 tons of the stuff a day, 55 batches at five tons per batch. From the time the wax is injected into the cylinder until the finished Polytrack spits out is just eight minutes.

Gregory estimates that the 16,000 tons of material will take up "the whole parking lot, and be 30 to 35 feet tall."

Already, plenty of cosmetic changes are noticeable at Del Mar. The inner and outer rails of the track, the chain-link fencing along the backstretch, and the shrubbery that hugged the outer rail of the clubhouse turn have all been removed. At the beginning of February, the dirt track is scheduled to be removed, too. According to McBride, the dirt has been purchased by a dirt-fill company, and the proceeds from its sale will go toward offsetting the cost of the Polytrack installation, which Del Mar has estimated will cost $8 million.

During February and into March, the drainage pipes at the base of the new surface will be installed, followed by a base layer of stone and macadam. Later in March, the new Polytrack surface is scheduled to be laid on top by dump trucks.

If all goes according to plan, McBride said Del Mar will invite trainers to bring horses to test the new surface in April. The track's race season opens in July.

The California Horse Racing Board has mandated that all major tracks in the state install a synthetic surface by the end of this year. Del Mar's need became critical after last summer, when a rash of fatal injuries to horses again raised concerns over the safety of the surface.

"We had to do something," McBride said. "Hopefully we can get the positive results with this that they've had at other places.'

Polytrack is currently in use at Keeneland, Turfway Park, and Woodbine. Hollywood Park uses the synthetic surface Cushion Track.