03/28/2007 11:00PM

Polytrack problems as meet opens


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - At this time last spring, the advent of Polytrack was being heralded as the piece de resistance of the 50th anniversary celebrations here at Woodbine.

Polytrack again will be the focus of attention when the 167-day 2007 meeting opens here Saturday, as the overall effectiveness of the surface, which debuted last Aug. 30, has become a contentious issue.

"It's broken," said David Willmot, president and CEO of the Woodbine Entertainment Group, referring to Polytrack in terms echoing those he had used to define Woodbine's former main track last March.

The Polytrack was the third surface used during the 2006 meeting. The former one-mile dirt track was closed following the July 3 card, and the renovated seven-furlong Standardbred oval hosted dirt racing from July 8 through Aug. 27.

Woodbine management met with Polytrack vendors Martin Collins and Keeneland on Wednesday to discuss what needs to be done to the surface. The current Polytrack has tended to separate and yield excessive kickback during cooler weather.

Willmot is hoping the Polytrack solution will involve a minimum of disruption to the racing schedule, with the best-case scenario involving the loss of perhaps just one Wednesday evening program in May. Mondays, excepting holidays, and Tuesdays are regular dark days, and Thursday racing will not begin until June 7.

"The problem is the work can't be done until we're guaranteed warm weather for two or three days," said Willmot.

By that time, the 102-race stakes schedule worth a record $22.1 million will be well under way.

The $250,000 Bison City, which has moved here from Fort Erie, is the lone addition to the stakes program.

The Bison City, the second leg of Canada's triple tiara for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies, will be run July 1. The triple tiara series opens with the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks on June 10 and winds up with the $250,000 Wonder Where here Julyo28.

The $1 million Queen's Plate will be run on Polytrack for the first time on June 24 and launches the Canadian Triple Crown series for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Fort Erie will host the Prince of Wales, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, on July 15, and the series concludes with the $500,000 Breeders' here Aug. 5.

Both the Wonder Where and Breeders' will be run on Woodbine's turf course, which also will be the venue for Canada's only three Grade 1 races - the $2 million Canadian International, the $1 million E.P. Taylor, and the $1 million Woodbine Mile.

The International and Taylor both will be run on Oct. 21, along with the Grade 2 Nearctic, while the Woodbine Mile program includes the Grade 2 Canadian and Grade 3 Summer on Sept. 16.

The $700,000 Northern Dancer, a Grade 2 turf race that debuted last summer, returns on July 22 and will anchor a new "Super Sunday" program that includes the Grade 2 Dance Smartly, plus the Bold Venture and Ontario Matron.

Woodbine also will feature a lucrative overnight program, with an average daily purse distribution of $368,754.

Woodbine's already deep jockey colony will be bolstered by the return of Chantal Sutherland, who was Canada's Sovereign Award-winning apprentice in 2001 and 2002. She last rode here in 2004. She has since been based south of the border, and rode at the Aqueduct meeting through this Wednesday.

Emma-Jayne Wilson, Canada's leading rider and voted the outstanding apprentice in 2005 and 2006, begins her first full meeting here as a journeyman. She returns ready to roll after competing this winter at Fair Grounds, where she rode 25 winners before heading home in mid-March.

Sid Attard, who has been Woodbine's leading trainer in races won at the last three meetings but has yet to take home a Sovereign Award, is among the stalwarts in a group of trainers that is mostly unchanged from recent seasons. It includes recent Sovereign honorees Mark Casse, Reade Baker, and Bob Tiller.