10/12/2005 12:00AM

Polytrack gets go-ahead


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The board of directors at the Keeneland Association took a major step Wednesday toward having the weather-resistant racing surface Polytrack installed on its main track, voting to proceed with the design and engineering stages of what eventually would be a multimillion-dollar project.

For racing purposes, Keeneland would become just the second North American racetrack to use Polytrack, a synthetic blend of carpet fibers, recycled rubber, and silica sand. Turfway Park, the Florence, Ky., track that Keeneland co-owns and manages, was the first, recently conducting a 22-day meet over Polytrack. If the Keeneland project proceeds as has been tentatively planned, construction would begin in late April, with the new surface ready for the 2006 fall meet.

The fact that Keeneland, long recognized as one of the world's elite tracks since it opened in the fall of 1936, plans to switch to Polytrack represents a major industry breakthrough. For decades, there has been little or no variation in the composition of dirt racetracks, which is what most North American tracks use as their primary surfaces.

"It's the desire of the board for Keeneland to have the finest racing surface in the world," Keeneland's president, Nick Nicholson, said in a release.

Keeneland became the first major track to install Polytrack when it resurfaced its five-furlong training track in September 2004. That experiment was brought on partly by the unpredictable nature of wintertime in central Kentucky, where drastic temperature swings and heavy precipitation frequently occur.

Nicholson conceded last week that conclusions being drawn from Polytrack at Turfway are not complete because the new surface has not yet been used for racing during wintertime, but "everything we know about Polytrack is positive, which is why Keeneland is going ahead with these preliminary plans for our own track," he said.

Polytrack originated in England, where its inventor, Martin Collins, still lives. Polytrack was first used there at a private training yard and now is in place at more than a dozen different tracks or training facilities.

Keeneland is a partner in the company, Martin Collins International, that manufactures and distributes Polytrack.