06/16/2009 12:00AM

New tool slows times on Polytrack


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Well into its third season, Arlington Park's Polytrack era has unfolded with far fewer problems than at many racetracks converted from dirt to synthetic surfaces. But, bowing to the reality of a surface that had become firmer and faster than many horsemen preferred, Arlington has purchased and implemented a new piece of maintenance equipment. The device, called a cultivator, arrived at Arlington on June 3, and appears to have slowed the Polytrack, especially during morning workouts.

Arlington learned of the cultivator through former trackman Javier Barajas's ties to Irwin Driedger, the track superintendent at Woodbine Race Course, which also has a Polytrack main track and began utilizing a cultivator this year. The instrument is pulled behind a tractor like typical harrows, but the tines that dig into the surface are S-shaped rather than straight.

"With the regular straight tines, the surface sometimes sticks and gets dragged along," said Arlington vice president of facilities and operations Tony Petrillo, the track's administrative-side point-man on the new equipment. "With this, if it sticks, it gives and lets go. The tines move the surface in a wave direction and turn it over. There's more air underneath it, and more fluff."

Ricky Malagon, Arlington's synthetic-track superintendent, traveled to Woodbine and worked the track there with the cultivator for two days before the device arrived at Arlington. Malagon grooms the track with the cultivator every evening, the teeth going four inches into the surface. Once this task is completed, Malagon and the Arlington crew pass over the surface with the gallop-master, the device Arlington personnel have used to groom the Polytrack since its installation. Power harrows, a third piece of equipment that more thoroughly turns over the surface, still are being used on the main track each Wednesday.

"Horsemen say they've seen an improvement," Petrillo said. "The workout times are more realistic."

Tuesday, for instance, only three of 25 horses working a half-mile were timed in faster than 48 seconds, and none of the 16 five-furlong workers broke 1:00. Throughout much of May, horses were routinely working sub-47-second half-miles, and going five-eighths in less than a minute.

"All I know is my assistant Rob [Dobbs] told me the other day it was fluffed up more and it was softer, and the horses weren't jarring as much," said trainer Christine Janks, who has been critical of the Polytrack here in the past.

Trainer Chris Block, who trains horses for Arlington chairman Dick Duchossois, had been very concerned with how fast the surface had become during morning work in May, and said he had immediately seen improvement with the arrival of the cultivator. Block said he believes there's a strong correlation between cool, damp mornings (of which Arlington has seen many this year) and fast Polytrack times, and said Arlington will have to be judicious in its use of the cultivator as morning temperatures increase through the summer.

"I think they have to be careful when it starts staying warmer overnight," Block said. "But they're trying 110 percent to try and do what's right. It was too fast, and Arlington knew it."

Giant Oak goes nice and slow

The Block-trained Giant Oak posted some sizzling Polytrack works earlier this meet. Saturday, he was timed in a pedestrian 1:03.80 for five furlongs. Part of that was the slower surface, but mainly, it was Block telling jockey Eddie Razo "to go as easy as he possibly could without walking around there."

Giant Oak now has breezed twice since he impressively won the Arlington Classic last month, his first turf start as a 3-year-old. Giant Oak, who worked by himself on Saturday, remains on target for the American Derby here July 11.

Kodiak Kowboy still at Delaware

Contrary to what one sees looking at the Saturday work tab at Arlington, top-class sprinter Kodiak Kowboy did not breeze a half-mile on Arlington's Polytrack, trainer Larry Jones said Tuesday.

Kodiak Kowboy's name showed up on the list of Saturday workers here, but the horse has never left Jones's Delaware Park base, where he really did breeze five furlongs on 1:01.80 on Monday morning.

Kodiak Kowboy is scheduled to start June 27 in the $200,000 Donald LeVine Memorial Handicap at Philadelphia Park, Jones said.

Campbell takes spill during training

Two weeks ago, Jesse Campbell missed a day's worth of mounts because of dehydration. Sunday, Campbell missed a day's worth of mounts because of an unruly 2-year-old trained by his own father, Mike Campbell.

Campbell said Tuesday morning that he took off Sunday after being thrown to the Polytrack during morning training. The horse Campbell was riding "freaked out," Campbell said, and after wandering all over the track with its accompanying pony, ran into another horse.

"I went sailing and hit the ground," said Campbell.

Campbell fell on his collarbone and face, but did not seek medical treatment at a hospital. He said he had planned to ride Sunday afternoon, but took off after experiencing dizziness. Campbell said he would be back in action for Thursday's races.

Campbell won the Possibly Perfect Stakes last Saturday, and his 20 wins rank sixth among Arlington riders.