12/06/2005 1:00AM

Switch to Polytrack under consideration

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Solihull, claimed for $62,500 by John Cardella on Nov. 27, will run in Sunday's Valedictory.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It's still far from a done deal, but Polytrack could be coming to Woodbine as soon as next summer.

"We're looking seriously at Polytrack," said Chris Evans, Woodbine's vice president of Thoroughbred racing, acknowledging that continuing problems with the main track here are expediting the study.

"We're researching the practicality of installing it, how to do it while we continue racing, and what the costs will be," he said.

Woodbine management, in a meeting with horsemen last Sunday, discussed a possible scenario in which a synthetic racing surface replaces the main track here next July.

Racing could continue on Woodbine's seven-furlong harness track, which would inherit the main track's cushion. Evans hopes the transfer of racing to the harness track could be accomplished in one Monday-through-Friday period, which would result in only a three-day interruption of the racing schedule.

"If this all becomes possible, it looks like we'd resurface the harness track as soon as possible after July 1," said Evans. "Then, we'd get into resurfacing the main track with Polytrack."

Evans estimates that installing the Polytrack would take six to eight weeks. Standardbred racing is scheduled to move from Woodbine to Mohawk on June 18 next year. That would allow time for the harness racing surface here to be converted, including the installation of inner and outer rails and adjusting the grading on the turns, before the early July changeover.

Conducting dirt races on the harness track, which itself replaced an inner turf course, would limit the range of distances offered during the transition.

Races at about seven furlongs, at one mile, and at 1 1/16 miles would be the staples, with five-furlong races also an option. Few stakes races would be affected by distance changes if the current schedule were replicated. And it would be business as usual on the E.P. Taylor turf course.

Meanwhile, the training track would become very busy during the period of the Polytrack installation. Extended training hours could help to compensate.

Some inconvenience would be unavoidable, but the bottom line is that Woodbine's main track has become a problem that will not go away.

Complaints this summer centered on the deep and cuppy nature of the track, which was not holding water. Steps were taken to address the situation, including the addition of loam, which itself has become a problem in the waning weeks of the season.

"The loam content helped us in the summer," said Evans. "But in the winter it holds water, and freezes it. When you harrow it, it breaks into clumps."

Those frozen clumps can become missiles hazardous to both riders and horses under racing and training conditions.

"If we don't go to Polytrack, we'll have to resurface with a conventional dirt track anyway," said Evans. "The emergence of Polytrack has come up as a great alternative. It would reduce maintenance costs. It would not require the loads of water we have to put on this surface, and fuel costs for the trucks will diminish."

Evans, along with Woodbine's chairman and chief executive officer, David Willmot, and vice president of properties, Gerri Kretschmer, will be in England later this month to assess the Polytrack racing surfaces at Lingfield and Wolverhampton and a training surface in Newmarket.

The Woodbine group also will observe a work in progress at Kempton Park, which currently is installing the synthetic surface.

Kretschmer and Brian Jabelman, Woodbine's director of racing surfaces, already visited Turfway Park when Polytrack debuted there in September.

Solihull attempts claimer-to-stakes jump

Bompago, claimed for $40,000 as a 2-year-old by trainer John Cardella, went on to win the Queen's Plate in what may forever stand as the most famous claim in Canadian racing history.

And while Solihull isn't about to eclipse that story, the 5-year-old gelding will be looking to continue a tradition of Cardella-claimed stakes winners when he races here in Sunday's closing-day Valedictory Handicap.

"He's been feeling so good and acting very good," said Cardella, who took Solihull for $62,500 from his last start. "I don't usually work horses fast, but he worked five-eighths this morning and he worked awful good."

Cardella also owns Solihull, in partnership with longtime client John Folino.

Solihull was clocked in 1:01.40 for the workout on Tuesday, under exercise rider Garnett Moodie.

Emile Ramsammy has the mount on Solihull for the $125,000 Valedictory, a 1 3/4-mile race that is the longest stakes race of the year in Ontario.

Cardella, 74, took a serious interest in Solihull following his Oct. 15 win for $62,500, and was on the case when the gelding ran back for that price on Nov. 12.

"He was just coming off a nice win, and I thought he had to be worth that kind of money," said Cardella. "I saw him in the paddock and he was a good-looking horse. But I didn't claim him that day."

Solihull notched his second straight win there and was entered back for the same tag on Nov. 27. Cardella checked the list of Valedictory nominees and, seeing that Solihull was included, decided to put in the claim.

"I thought if he didn't win the Valedictory, he might get a check," said Cardella. "And, next year, I can have some fun with him."

Solihull finished third in last year's Valedictory, beaten 11 3/4 lengths, but finishing only 2 1/4 lengths shy of the runner-up spot.