09/04/2006 12:00AM

New Turfway meet begins with a tweaked Polytrack

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FLORENCE, Ky. - The first North American track to race on Polytrack will kick off its second year with the revolutionary surface when Turfway Park opens a 22-day fall meet Wednesday night.

Despite nearly universal acclaim for Polytrack, which led to Turfway registering substantially higher all-sources handle last year, management chose to tinker a bit with the surface. The track was shut down for two days recently as almost 4,200 tons of new Polytrack material replaced about two inches on a track that made its debut last September.

The new material is a modified version of a surface composed of rubber bits, carpet fibers, and wax-coated silica sand. There also are tiny Spandex strands and plastic cable coating in the mix, along with a slightly heavier wax coating.

"One of the difficulties in being the guinea pig is you have no choice but to learn as you go," said Turfway president Bob Elliston. "As much as the horsemen loved the surface, we still thought we could make it so that it's firmer and quicker and with less kickback."

Elliston was ecstatic with how Polytrack helped Turfway to reverse a business slump that had dogged the track for years. Gross handle at the three-month winter-spring meet was up a whopping 62 percent over corresponding 2005 figures, about half of it attributable to the fact that there were no cancellations versus 11 full or partial cards lost the previous year.

With many trainers and jockeys returning to the Kentucky circuit from Saratoga and elsewhere, the Turfway meet marks a reunion of sorts following the seven-week Ellis Park meet. Among the stables that will be active at Turfway are those run by trainers Dale Romans, Patrick Biancone, D. Wayne Lukas, Scott Blasi, and Dallas Stewart.

As usual, the meet highlight is the 13th annual Kentucky Cup series. The five-race, $825,000 series is set for Sept. 30, two weeks later than when it traditionally had been run. The showcase race is the Grade 2 $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic for 3-year-olds and up.

The opening-night feature is a $23,400 allowance in which Itsallboutthechase will try to recapture the form that momentarily had his connections thinking about the Kentucky Derby early in the year. Itsallboutthechase, with Willie Martinez to ride, is one of 10 entered in the one-mile race, which is carded as the ninth of 10 races.

The first stakes race comes Saturday - the $100,000 Turfway Fall Championship, which drew a nominations list of 41 older horses.

At a glance:

* RACING SCHEDULE: Wednesday through Oct. 5 (22 days); dark Mondays and Tuesdays.

* POST TIME: Weeknights, 7 p.m. Eastern; weekends, 1:10 p.m.

* HIGHLIGHTS: Eight stakes, including the five-race, $825,000 Kentucky Cup series on Sept. 30.

* ADMISSIONS and PARKING: Free.

* PURSES: About $175,000 per day.

* LOCATION: 7500 Turfway Road in Florence, Ky., just off Interstate 71/75.

* PHONE: (800) 733-0200 or (859) 371-0200.

* INTERNET: www.turfway.com