07/09/2008 11:00PM

Maintenance begins on Del Mar Poly


DEL MAR, Calif. - The carnival rides, fried Twinkie stands, and livestock exhibitions took up all the space at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for three weeks through last Sunday, but the transformation to Del Mar's racing season, which begins Wednesday, was going full steam ahead Thursday morning, when the main track opened for training and most of the remnants of the fair were gone.

Only a handful of horses were on the track, for trainers like John Glenney and Peter Miller. Several other trainers - including Carla Gaines, Bruce Headley, and Darrell Vienna - had shipped in all or most of their runners early Thursday morning, so activity figured to ramp up by the weekend.

Yet despite the limited traffic, Del Mar already was grooming its synthetic Polytrack surface exactly as it hopes to when it gets its heaviest use for both racing and training during the race season. The track opened at 4:30 a.m, and there was a renovation break at 7 a.m. It was a cool, cloudy morning, and the surface was firm.

Once the clouds burned off later in the morning, a water truck was brought out and made a pass over the surface. The application of water, which was not done last year, is one of the ways Del Mar hopes to alleviate the biggest complaint it received regarding Polytrack last year, namely that the surface was inconsistent - good and tight in the morning when blanketed by clouds, but deep and tiring on hot summer afternoons.

"The track softened in the afternoon when it got hot," Jim Pendergest, the general manager for Martin Collins Surfaces and Footings - the manufacturer of Polytrack - said Thursday morning. "We're pretty confident we can speed the times up. Watering will help cool the track when it gets hot. And we added a new wax to the surface that's less susceptible to heat. We think there will be less variance because of the temperature. Watering will be part of the routine."

Pendergest was standing in the seven-furlong chute with a few other people. He acknowledged that the track felt firmer than before last year's meet, which was the first at Del Mar with Polytrack. Tom Robbins, Del Mar's vice president of racing and its racing secretary, said "two loads of water" were put down about 6 p.m. Wednesday.

"It's firmer than it was last year at this point," Pendergest said. "The wax and the water made it a little firmer."

Robbins said Del Mar's surface, though slow last year in the afternoon, was safer than in years past. The desire this year is to make it more consistent "without sacrificing safety," Robbins said.