10/16/2013 1:48PM

Jay Hovdey: Del Mar planting seed for Breeders' Cup bid


Never mind the fact that California racing will have one less racetrack and a whole new calendar beginning in 2014. There also will be two brand new courses over which a healthy amount of racing and training will take place. One of them is at Los Alamitos, where the five-furlong Quarter Horse track is being expanded to a mile for year-round training and Thoroughbred meets in the early summer and late fall. The other is at Del Mar, where the 53-year-old turf layout has been removed and replaced with a course 30 feet wider.

Earlier this week, Del Mar turf course superintendent Leif Dickinson stood at what he assured a visitor will be the far turn of the work in progress. The fact that there was nothing surrounding him but a broad expanse of packed and piled dirt did not deter Dickinson from describing what will be the first major reimagining of a California grass layout since the straightaways of the Hollywood Park course were extended in 1985.

“Going to 80 feet wide will make for a dramatic difference,” Dickinson said. “That will give us rail positions at zero, six, 12, 18, 24, and 30 feet, which will help us a lot on the three-eighths turn and the seven-eighths turn, especially that first year.”

That first year will be next summer, when Del Mar runs its traditional seven weeks, followed by a shorter meet in the fall. The project is on target, with Bermuda grass growing at an inland desert sod farm.

“After we get the sub-grade set, the irrigation lines placed, the new growing profile added and everything graded we should be ready to add the grass some time around the first of the year,” Dickinson said. “Then right after the sod goes in, we plan to cover the whole track with blankets to heat up the profile, very similar to what the San Diego Chargers do to their practice field.”

Turf superintendents of all kinds belong to a sort of secret society rife with incantations of fungicides, wetting agents, and stolon aggression.

“I met with the superintendent of the Chargers last week and told him what we were up against,” Dickinson said. “ ‘But we have football players,’ he said. I told him, ‘You have no idea.’ I don’t care what kind of turf you’re talking about – football, baseball, soccer, golf. Compared to any sport where you use turf, the equine athlete blows it out of the water. We need more of everything in terms of good weather, maintenance, and profile strength.”

Moan, moan, moan. Dickinson sounds like a typical guy with lawn problems (I forgot to ask him about my crabgrass). But then, his lawn is 10 1/2 acres. And the four-legged, half-ton neighborhood kids chewing it up have names like Obviously, Tiz Flirtatious, and Indy Point.

“With a fall meet here starting next year, we can’t do things the same way we’ve done them,” Dickinson continued. “We can’t possibly keep the summer grass course as high as we have in the past because we’ll have to overseed it with rye once the meet ends. Then, after the November meet, we’ll be transitioning back to growing a Bermuda course in the middle of winter.”

Tim Read, Del Mar’s vice president of operations, wandered over to talk turf. The original course was built in 1960 during the tenure of Read’s father, the late Eddie Read, in management’s inner circle.

“My dad had gone with Fritz Hawn to Australia to look at horses,” Read said, referring to Del Mar director W.R. Hawn. “The story goes, they became so enamored with turf racing down there that when they came home they convinced the board of directors to put in a course.”

In 1996, Dickinson supervised the installation of a Santa Anita Park turf course that brought to an end 13 years of failed experimentation with a variety of grasses, soils, and plastic grids designed to enhance all-weather durability.

In 2004, Dickinson was hired by Del Mar, where his first priority was the triage of a course that, among other things, badly needed resodding. Still, it was the width of the course that remained the stickiest issue, especially when Del Mar management began lusting after a crack at a Breeders’ Cup bid. There was no way the Breeders’ Cup capacity of 14 runners could be safely accommodated.

Now it’s happening, and by next July Del Mar should have the showcase turf course required for Breeders’ Cup consideration. Still, when you renovate a house without adding square footage, compromises need to be made. The turns – as measured in radius for you geometry fans – will sharpen as the course is widened inward.

“The turn radius of the old track was 353 feet,” Dickinson said. “Santa Anita’s is 322. The new track will be 310, but that’s at the zero rail position. At the six-foot rail position it will be closer to Santa Anita’s. The old turns here were banked at about 3 1/2 percent, so we’re going to five percent, which should help.”

The most dramatic feature of the old course was the unkind angle at which the infield turf chute – used for nine-furlong events like the Grade 1 Eddie Read and Del Mar Oaks – attached to the main course.

“That was one of our corrective projects,” Dickinson said, while standing at what will be the head of the realigned chute. “We’re pushing the chute west to soften that turn.”

At times Dickinson had to raise his voice above a steady relay of dump trucks and watering tankers.

“We’re taking off about 500,000 tons of material from the old turf track, and there will be an equal amount coming back,” Dickinson said. “Most of the old material is being shipped off site to be composted and eventually turned into soil. The rest is being used to build up berms around the lakes – really they’re drainage ponds – to increase capacity. That gives us the opportunity to add fountains and other water features, and enhance the landscaping.

“Everything is being used here or it’s being recycled. Even the concrete from the footings of the old rail posts, hundreds of them. And we found things we weren’t anticipating.”

Buried doubloons? Dead bodies? The keys to my ’72 Camaro?

“Drain lines, drain boxes, things without use dating from who knows when,” Dickinson said. “We’ve got guys who’ve been here 40 years that didn’t know what some of the stuff was for.

“We put on the plans everything we thought would be there,” he added. “And still we’re required to have a paleontologist and an archeologist who come by once a week. That’s just in case we find an arrowhead.”

Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
What is it with the term (plastic ) everything synthetic is not plastic.its like saying horses are running 10 furlongs on the weeds.jess jackson coined the term (cur lin)a losers limp.i dont care for it in the classics but face it ,its the new 3rd surface.arguably safer in many circumstances.we just need to find a comfort zone.the bottom line is whatever is kinder to the horses and promotes larger fields.sometimes you have to ditch your flip- phone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Greetings Randy, I have a good laugh when posters characterize synthetic surfaces as 'plastic' and treat them as one monolithic entity. Many critics fail to realize that synthetic surfaces consist of 80% sand (along with fibers and waxes). You are correct that synthetic surfaces are safer and boast improved shock absorption. Traditionalists often challenge these claims by finding one or two tracks that are the exception to the rule. While it is true that track safety is the product of multiple variables, comprehensive analysis by the Jockey Club found that the "risk of fatality on synthetic surfaces was significantly lower than the risk of fatality on turf surfaces, which was significantly lower than the risk of fatality on dirt surfaces." There is a laughable contradiction when pundits and industry insiders complain about synthetic surfaces undermining the traditional game, while they simultaneously support technological innovations such as game-day medications (i.e. Lasix). Furthermore, there are other important traditions that are quickly withering on the vine as a result of inbreeding, permissive drug use, and short-sighted business practices. For example, main track races held beyond 9F are quickly becoming an anomaly.
Walter More than 1 year ago
Dmr just doesn't have the space to put on a BC. Their turf course is a bull ring. Now that it's being widened, it's going to look like a circle. Think of Yonkers. When Bing & his buddies built it, they didn't envision the need for a sprawling turf course.
robert claydon More than 1 year ago
The biggest problem with the BC is that it is lost its ways an originally envisioned by Gaines. Go back to one day and drop all the dumb, irrelevant races. The BC was suppose to be a year old finale to crown champions and end the season, as well as to be rotated to the various major tracks. It has morphed into its own meet, expanded to two days, tried to take on the banner of being a world event. It now tends to compete with other meets and has distorted the regular meets and races. It wants to be at one site. If it does, there will be a reaction such as NYRA holding its own championship day and negating the BC. The BC needs to go back to its original design. But like all the tracks, it thinks more races is better and what the fan wants - not. Maybe the BC could include the Claiming Crown and go to 3 days. Oh wait, lets include the harness championship as well. One more time - back to original design and less is better.
john More than 1 year ago
Never again on Polytrack
Jeffrey More than 1 year ago
The Breeder's Cup was never held on polytrack. If you lump all synthetic tracks into one box and act like they're the same entity, you will make some egregious mistakes in your handicapping. There are multiple types of synthetic surfaces that all have their own unique idiosyncrasies. Furthermore, the same type of synthetic surface (e.g. polytrack, Tapeta, cushion track) plays different from venue to venue based on variables such as weather and track maintenance. The same holds true for conventional dirt surfaces, which have their own individual nuances. For example, compare the winterized inner-track at Aqueduct (limestone based) with its clay and soil-based counterpart. Like synthetics, dirt tracks come in several varieties and it would be a foolish oversimplification to rely on a synthetic/dirt dichotomy when analyzing past performances.
Daniel155 More than 1 year ago
Have the Breeder's Cup at Evangeline Downs!
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Beulah park 2015, Penn 2016, presque isle 2017
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Fairplex,thats thinking outside the box!
Mel Leonard More than 1 year ago
Naysayers go AWAY!! Del Mar is positioning itself to be World Class, let the experts do their jobs. They aren't at your place of work telling you what to do!!
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
So the only opinion you want are ones that agree with yours?
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
I hope it absolutely pours out and the track is a swamp. Yeah, it would suck for a year, but it would get rid of this nonsense that it cant happen out west. I miss when the Euros send there best to the WORLD Championships. They are not interested in the right turns and concrete that Santa Anita is. The best idea would be a rotation that has 3 years in each Cali, NY, and KY, and 1 year at Woodbine in Toronto as that turf course truly shows who is the best pure turf horse. Now, each state cannot host consecutive Cups, but in a 10 year period, is assured it 3 times. Fairest way to do it for all the states, and for the Euros if you are really wanting a true WORLD championships.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Pour@ santa anita nov 1 ( current odds 1000-1)
diane esper More than 1 year ago
Del Mar In late October/November will introduce the factor of fog rollling in off the ocean. And for you few who like to see the ACTUAL races, don't accept seats on levels 3 and 5 of the upper grandstand, where. Mr. Mabee's architect planted huge 3' wide pillars to enhance that nostalgic Mission look.. Then if the tides co-operate, you may enjoy a ;nice experience where the turf meets the surf in late fall. .
Edward More than 1 year ago
I used to have to enter a pool to get tickets to the Breeders Cup. Ever since it has been unofficially a California only race, I get solicitations to buy BC tickets up until the races are run(they still have plenty!!!). Hmmm.
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
Where are they available?
Walter More than 1 year ago
Used to love Dmr until this year. That was a disaster for me. SA is definitely my favorite. However, there is no reason why Bel or even Aqu should not host a BC. They are both good tracks that host great races throughout the year.