05/12/2010 11:00PM

Penn surface deemed safe


Penn National racetrack is scheduled to resume racing Thursday night following the cancellation of Wednesday's card because of concerns by horsemen that the track's surface had become unsafe, representatives of the track and horsemen said on Thursday morning.

Todd Mostoller, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the track's surface appeared to be in much better shape on Thursday morning after drying out following heavy rains on Tuesday night.

Training was canceled on Thursday morning as crews worked the track to try to even out patches in the surface that "had no texture," Mostoller said.

"It's like racing on a milkshake," said Mostoller.

Chris McErlean, Penn National's vice president of racing, said that the heavy rains that fell on Tuesday night just after the card ended created "soft spots" in the surface after track maintenance crews removed and added material on Sunday and Monday to convert the surface from a winter mix to a summer mix.

"Parts of the track weren't drying out quickly enough," McErlean said. "You'd go from a consistent spot to a soft spot to a consistent spot."

Although two horses broke down in the seventh race on Tuesday night, McErlean said that the surface was "raceworthy" before the rain falling after the completion of the card. He contended that the horses broke down after making contact with each other.

The chart of the race says that "Artist Moon pressed the early pace from the inside, then broke down on the backstretch." The other horse, Half Moon Beach, "was up close and two wide, then broke down on the backstretch," according to the chart footnotes.

Horsemen also complained last year about problems with the surface after the replacement materials were added, and voted to cancel a card because of concerns that the surface was unsafe.

"That's the frustrating part," Mostoller said. "It's like deja vu all over again."

McErlean said that Penn National plans to allow more time to work on the track after converting the surface from either the winter or summer mix in the future.

"We probably put ourselves in a bind by not giving ourselves enough time to let the materials mix," McErlean said.