08/28/2014 11:52AM

New dirt surface opens at Keeneland

Keeneland Photo
A horse tests out the newly opened dirt track at Keeneland.

The new dirt surface at Keeneland officially opened before dawn Thursday, with horsemen giving it tentative praise as a new era got under way at the Lexington, Ky., track.

“I’d say it’s almost close to ideal,” said trainer Phil Sims, based at Keeneland for more than 30 years. “We went out on it a couple days ago for a little test run, and it’s really nice. It’s kind of dark in color, and I don’t think it’ll dry out like some tracks do. Obviously, time will tell, but so far, I think everybody’s real positive about it.”

Keeneland used Polytrack as its main racing surface for eight years before it was announced last spring that the track would revert to dirt for the fall meet that begins Oct. 3. Construction on the new surface began May 19. Comprised of sand, silt, and clay, it features a modernized drainage system designed to collect and discharge water away from the track.

“The new materials and advanced technology available to monitor consistency and moisture content in the racing surface have enabled us to build a world-class dirt track that will be as safe as possible for horse and rider,” Keeneland president Bill Thomason said in a release. “We are proud of the renovation and excited to welcome owners and trainers back to Keeneland.”

Keeneland has not revealed the cost of the renovation.

A track spokesman said seven horses breezed over the track Thursday.