11/14/2007 12:00AM

Track maintenance for the bettor

EmailETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine recently began to post the maintenance schedule for the Polytrack, which should be somewhat helpful in predicting how the synthetic surface might play.

The two pieces of equipment used to maintain the Polytrack are the gallop master and the power harrow, according to Irwin Driedger, Woodbine's director of Thoroughbred racing surfaces.

"The gallop master is used on a regular basis," Driedger said. "It takes the hoof marks out, and it removes the gate tracks. When you keep going over the track with the tractors and the horses, after a while, that compacts the track.

"The power harrow is used to loosen the track up. It has a swirling motion with teeth. You can set it at any depth that you want. It's generally used on Mondays, when there's not too many workers. When you power harrow it at five inches, it will slow the horses down."

Track records have been set in abundance this fall, and Driedger said the cooler fall weather has helped to create a harder track, which requires more power harrowing than in the summer.

"The track has been getting firmer as the week goes on," Driedger said. "I wasn't doing any midweek maintenance before. I was [power-harrowing] it once on Monday, but now I've been doing it again on Thursday or Friday. In the cooler weather, power harrowing doesn't affect things as much as in the warmer weather. Five inches in the warmer weather is fairly significant."

Driedger said the track sometimes speeds up dramatically during a Wednesday evening card.

"I've found it can tighten up noticeably after the sun goes down," Driedger said. "It seems to tighten up more than on a day when the weather doesn't change much. The composition of the wax changes when the sun goes down."

There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding how the track will play after it has been power harrowed, but it will usually be slower than it was on the previous day, and speed horses can be at a disadvantage. That seemed to the case last Friday, when closers won 8 of the 10 races on the card, after the track was power harrowed to three inches the previous night.

Front-runners should have a slightly better chance when no power harrowing has been done to the track for a while, although there hasn't been a procession of gate-to-wire winners when the track is producing fast times. The only speed bias that I've observed during the past month was on Nov. 2, which was four days after the last time the surface was power harrowed.

The track was dramatically slower than usual on the weekend of Sept.o29-30, after some significant maintenance was done to it.

"I tried to do some different things to the track earlier on, and they didn't really work," Driedger said. "I think it's staying a little bit more consistent now. I don't like to change the track. I want to try to keep it as consistent as possible, not only for the trainers, but also for the bettors."

The Polytrack yielded an abundance of kickback in the fall of 2006, after the weather got cold during the first week of November. It remained that way last spring, until a different type of wax was added to the surface.

"The track now is completely the opposite of what it was last fall," Driedger said. "Last fall, I was trying to keep it together. This year, it's gotten tight when it's gotten cold, which is what it's supposed to do.

"They put the wrong wax in it, initially. The wax that we had in it last year was great for July and August, but it didn't work in the cooler weather. This wax is softer, and it has more oil in it. With the wax that we have now, we can have a decent track in spring, fall, and summer."