08/23/2005 11:00PM

Polytrack gets test drive

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FLORENCE, Ky. - Polytrack passed another test Wednesday morning at Turfway Park when three exhibition races were run without incident over the track's new racing surface.

With nearly 100 people watching from the track apron, the five-furlong races were run in the relatively slow times of 1:03.20, 1:03.20, and 1:04. Although Turfway opened the new track to training Aug. 3, Wednesday marked the first time that horses were allowed to break from the starting gate and proceed through simulated race conditions.

Predictably, there was universal praise from Turfway horsemen for Polytrack, a weather-resistant surface that is constituted of silica sand, recycled rubber, and carpet fibers, all covered in a thin wax coating.

"It looks like the track is very honest," said trainer David England, who saddled the unraced 2-year-old filly Boundary Queen for a runner-up finish in the first trial race. "It is very forgiving. Horses training on it should be very fit when they run."

"It's better than Bute," an anti-inflammatory medication, said trainer Jeff Greenhill. "It seems that the more horses train on it, the sounder they get. You'd think there'd be a hole in this thing somewhere, but I have no idea what it might be."

Before the races were held following regular training hours, Turfway hosted a one-hour briefing on the many aspects and advantages of Polytrack, which has never been used for racing purposes in the United States. Turfway will become the first to host Polytrack racing when its fall meet opens Sept. 7.

Among the featured speakers at the briefing were the British entrepreneur Martin Collins, who invented the surface, and, by telephone, James Willoughby, a British racing journalist asked to comment on what American handicappers might expect.

Willoughby said that in his observations of racing over Polytrack surfaces at the British tracks Lingfield and Wolverhampton, speed horses tended to fare poorly for a period of several months before results began evening out. Willoughby added that turf specialists may fare better on Polytrack than horses accustomed to dirt racing.

Management at Keeneland in Lexington, which co-owns Turfway, has said that if Polytrack proves as successful as they expect, then Keeneland may install it as early as next year. Officials at Del Mar also have said they are seriously considering switching to Polytrack.

Meanwhile, Andrew Beyer, whose Beyer Speed Figures are a staple in Daily Racing Form, has taken such an interest in the introduction of Polytrack to the American racing scene that he will personally compile and report figures for the entire Turfway meet, which runs through Oct. 6. Beyer normally employs a staff that compiles figures for the vast majority of North American tracks.

Turfway president Bob Elliston said existing track records at Turfway will be archived after Sept. 18, when Polytrack records will go into effect.