07/03/2007 11:00PM

Woodbine's Poly now playing fairly


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine's Polytrack may be kinder to speed than any other synthetic racing surface in North America.

During the early portion of the Woodbine meeting, front-runners and stalkers dominated the results. Although part of that can be attributed to the abundance of five-furlong dashes carded, speed was particularly effective on April 1, 14, 15, 20, 27, 28 and May 2.

From early November to mid-May, the Polytrack yielded a considerable amount of kickback, which probably caused those biases. Ever since more wax was added to the surface prior to the May 16 card, the track has played fairly with only a few exceptions, the most recent being June 24, when front-runners and pace-pressers thrived.

Irwin Driedger, Woodbine's director of racing surfaces, said he did not alter the track prior to that important June 24 card, which was Queen's Plate Day.

"I did absolutely nothing different, except we closed the track at 8 a.m. instead of 10," Driedger said. "The track was fast, and the races were fairly quick. If there was a bias, I don't know what caused it, because the weather didn't change.

"I want the track to be same, day in and day out. I would never change it because of a big race. My job is to keep that track as safe and consistent as I possibly can, so that everybody has a fair chance."

Driedger said regular Polytrack maintenance involves using a Gallop Master to de-compact the surface.

"The only time I do things differently is on the off days, Mondays and Tuesdays, when I de-compact the track with a power harrow," Driedger said. "I've been setting it to a good depth, about 4 1/2 to 5 inches. Then I'll run over it with the Gallop Master about three or four times, depending on the weather. The track can be a shade slower on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday nights, but it gets a little bit quicker as the week goes on. Sunday is usually the fastest day of the week."

Driedger believes the surface has improved significantly in recent weeks.

"Horses are going into the track a little more now than when it was first re-waxed, because of the hot weather," said Driedger. "But they're still going fairly quickly. The wax fluctuates a little with the temperature change. The sun really loosens the track up, and rain tightens it up some."

Jelly cable, a petroluem-based product, was also added to the track in the spring.

"We've still got half of the jelly cable to add," said Driedger. "Hopefully, we'll do that in the next couple weeks, and then we'll evaluate the track. Jelly cable holds everything together. It should eliminate some of the kickback, and there will definitely be more cushion."

Jockey Emma Wilson, who won the Queen's Plate aboard a stalking Mike Fox, said that she's content with the footing the Polytrack provides, but not the kickback.

"The traction for the horses has improved significantly since the spring," Wilson said. "I love the surface underneath them. I just don't like it kicking back up into my face. The kickback is my only concern. They added the jelly cable and the wax, but it's still kicking up pretty good. I know they're trying to rectify the problem."

To try to avoid the kickback, Wilson recently began wearing a mosquito net around her face.

"I've found that a lot of the kickback is difficult to expel, and it was getting stuck in my sinuses and throat," Wilson said. "The mosquito net acts as a filter, so any of the Polytrack that's hitting my face gets caught up in the netting and there's no hindrance to my breathing.

"The only time I didn't wear it was on [front-runner] Friendly Theresa. She's pretty straightforward. When you don't wear it, it's like showing the rest of the guys at the poker table your hand."

Mike Fox must better his lone dirt effort

Queen's Plate winner Mike Fox has a realistic chance of winning the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the July 15 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie. However, the Wales is run on the dirt, and he was a distant fourth after blowing the break the only time he competed on dirt, in an optional claimer at Tampa.

Daaher, a lightly raced son of 1997 Plate winner Awesome Again, should be a force if he shows up for the 1 3/16-mile Wales. He was bet way down to 7-2 in the 1 1/4-mile Plate, in which he ran on his left lead unto the top of the stretch before closing against the bias to finish fourth.