08/02/2005 11:00PM

New Polytrack surface opens for training

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Turfway Park
More than two dozen horses jogged and galloped over the new main track at Turfway on Wednesday, and horsemen praised the Polytrack surface.

FLORENCE, Ky. - Turfway Park, which will become the first North American track to conduct racing over a Polytrack surface when its fall meet begins Sept. 7, opened its new surface for training Wednesday morning. More than two dozen horses jogged and galloped, and afterward participating horsemen praised the surface.

Similar to the Polytrack surface installed at the Keeneland training track in September 2004, it has a different look and feel than a traditional dirt track. A blend of sand, carpet fibers, and dark rubber gives it the appearance of dry chocolate-chip cookie dough. When walked upon, it has an elastic but firm texture.

Most of the horses that exercised over the surface Wednesday went smoothly over the material, traveling more quietly and with limited dust and kickback.

Many horsemen at Turfway on Wednesday were already familiar with Polytrack surfaces, having trained horses over the Keeneland training track during the past year. Janet Davidson, one such trainer, raved about how the surface had reduced the concussion on her horses' legs.

"I think this is the golden egg," she said.

With stall space at Keeneland limited in the months ahead because of upcoming horse auctions, she and her husband, Fred, decided to shift their Lexington-based stable to Turfway in Florence, Ky., rather than have their horses train over a traditional dirt surface at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington.

Jim Pendergest, general manager for Martin Collins Surfaces and Footings, the company that manufacturers Polytrack, said the surface at Turfway is slightly different from the Polytrack at Keeneland. Martin Collins, the developer, used a different carpet fiber and added more rubber to the composition to further improve it, Pendergest said.

The larger circumference of the one-mile Turfway oval makes it a better surface over which to train than the five-eighths-mile Keeneland training track, Davidson said, a thought that horsemen echoed.

Turfway and Martin Collins officials claim that the surface is virtually impervious to precipitation and cold weather, does not require watering, and needs only limited maintenance. Davidson said she never saw the Keeneland training track closed for training over the winter.

Last year Turfway Park lost 11 days of winter racing because of weather, said Bob Elliston, track president. This winter, he hopes to reduce that number to two days - his estimate of the number of days which would have to be canceled because of treacherous road travel or extreme cold.

Elliston would not disclose the cost of the new surface, citing proprietary reasons. Keeneland, which is distributing Polytrack in North America, is part-owner of Turfway. He said the entire cost of the track's summer renovation projects - which also includes a new safety rail, paddock, and winner's circle - was $5 million to $6 million.

Elliston projects that the Polytrack surface will pay for itself within five years, largely because of maintenance savings and recaptured days of racing. Elliston said that does not take into account any business factors such as higher handle from fewer weather-related scratches.

The use of Polytrack, first introduced in the United Kingdom in the early 1980's, has expanded rapidly around the world over the last five years. In 2001, Lingfield Park in England became the first track to use the surface for racing, and this year alone, High Pointe Training Center in La Grange, Ky., and Juddmonte Farm in Lexington have added Polytrack training facilities.