08/24/2006 11:00PM

Keeneland project making progress

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Keeneland Association
Macadam has been laid down over the new drainage system at Keeneland.

Almost everything except for the installation of the Polytrack surface material itself has been completed in the massive renovation that has been ongoing since early May at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

"The project is very far along and nearing completion," Keeneland publicist Jim Williams said Friday.

When its fall meet begins Oct. 6, Keeneland will become just the second North American track to employ Polytrack as its primary racing surface. Turfway Park, which Keeneland co-owns and manages, became the first in September 2005. Several other major tracks are scheduled to follow suit by installing Polytrack or other types of synthetic racing surface, including Woodbine in Canada and Hollywood Park in Southern California.

A macadam surface has just been laid over Keeneland's newly built drainage system. The finishing touches will include the laying of the Polytrack surface over the track this week. Project workers "actually already began putting down the Polytrack on the backstretch this week," said Williams. "A lot of little things will still need to be done as we move into September and approach the race meet, but overall, all the major things are just about in place."

The new surface is just one aspect of what is the largest capital project in Keeneland's 70-year history. The track is not revealing the cost of the renovation.

The layout of the main track was reconfigured considerably before the Polytrack portion of the project began, although the track remains 1 1/16 miles in circumference. Among the project's many other features are a high-definition infield tote board; new rails for the turf and Polytrack surfaces, including an inner safety rail for Polytrack; a new winner's circle; and a larger apron.

Keeneland will unveil the new facility to the public at an Oct. 1 open house.

With the Keeneland September yearling sale set for Sept. 11-25, Williams said a date has not yet been determined regarding the opening of the barn area for racehorses.

A photo gallery that has tracked the progress of the Keeneland renovation over the last several months is accessible on the track's website, keeneland.com.

Turfway upgrades Polytrack cushion

While the Keeneland renovation was nearing its completion, the Polytrack was resurfaced this week at Turfway in Florence, Ky. The track was closed for training Thursday and Friday when nearly two inches of the synthetic surface was scraped off and replaced with nearly 4,200 tons of new material. Track officials said most of the resurfacing would be completed by late Friday and that no more training days are likely to be lost.

The replacement material is slightly different from the original. According to Jim Pendergast, project manager for Martin Collins International, the new material consists of finer sand and includes tiny bits of the plastic cable coating normally found on everyday items such as telephone wiring, and the entire mix has been treated with a slightly heavier blend of wax coating. The intent is to make the surface less cuppy and more compact and thereby reduce kickback, which was one of the few complaints that trainers or jockeys had about the new surface during its first year of usage.

"We've always maintained that Polytrack is a work in progress," said Turfway publicist Sherry Pinson. "The resurfacing is being done in an attempt to refine what we believe has been a welcome innovation."

* Lemons Forever, third in the Alabama Stakes last weekend at Saratoga, will make her next start on the first weekend of October, trainer Dallas Stewart said Friday at Churchill Downs. Stewart said the Kentucky Oaks winner will run in either the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park or against older fillies and mares for the first time in the Spinster at Keeneland.

* Churchill-based Unbridled Express is scheduled to race in the Grade 1, $250,000 Hopeful Stakes on closing day of the Saratoga meet, Sept. 4. A half-interest in Unbridled Express was recently sold for a reported $1.8 million to a partnership that includes NetJets founder Richard Santulli.

* Another Churchill horse headed to Saratoga for closing weekend is Murch, who will run in the Sept. 3 Saranac. Murch, trained by Helen Pitts, won a second-level allowance race on the Aug. 12 Arlington Million undercard at Arlington Park.