LEXINGTON, Kentucky. – Keeneland has announced that it will be converting its main race track from synthetic Polytrack material to a state-of-the-art dirt surface, with a drainage system that will be the first of its kind in North America. The conversion will take place over the summer, with construction scheduled to begin on 19 May and be completed by 15 August.
“Keeneland’s mission is to provide the highest level of racing possible, and in order to accomplish that goal going forward, a dirt surface is preferable,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “This dirt track will be a ‘next-generation’ surface, the most extensively researched and most sophisticated in North America. We believe that with the new materials and research available to us today we can build a world-class dirt track that is as safe as our synthetic surface for horses and riders. Their safety absolutely remains our top priority.”
Keeneland, along with a team of experts who consulted with noted track specialist Dr. Mick Peterson, executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, has been working for more than a year to conduct testing on materials, water drainage systems and race track design. Officials have learned from research that proper maintenance of the surface is just as important as the selection of materials from a safety and consistency perspective.
“This is not a decision that we have undertaken lightly,” Thomason said. “From the outset of the synthetic surface installation in 2006, we have always said that this is a journey and not a destination. The racing landscape has changed, and for that reason we have an obligation to our horsemen and to our fans to evaluate where the industry is going.
“Owners and trainers, especially those who compete at the highest levels of the sport, overwhelmingly prefer dirt tracks,” he said. “In keeping with our mission and the quality that is expected of Keeneland, we have to be more competitive in attracting the top horses and Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup contenders and in hosting major racing events.”
“Surface consistency from track to track is also an important safety concern,” Thomason said. “Similar to what Del Mar is facing in Southern California, Keeneland’s regional racing circuit is made up primarily of dirt tracks in Florida, New York and Louisiana.”
Keeneland installed its Polytrack surface during the summer of 2006, and held its first race meet over the surface that fall. Since then, the surface has consistently ranked as one of the nation’s safest.
“We are proud of our Polytrack surface; it has set the standard for safety in the industry,” Thomason said. “The amount of science and research that has been conducted with regard to synthetic surfaces around the country has helped elevate all racing surfaces.”
Thomason said that in light of the main track renovation, Keeneland will work with resident horsemen to provide ample time and accommodations for summer stabling. Keeneland’s five-eighths mile training track will remain a Polytrack surface and be open during the summer months.
Quotes on new dirt track:
“As a traditionalist, finding the best and safest natural dirt surface has appeal to our racing program. And as a realist, I applaud Keeneland’s understanding of why this needed to be done to support the long-term integrity of the racing product.”
-Seth Hancock, President, Claiborne Farm
“I look forward to having a greater presence at Keeneland with its return to a dirt surface. It’s a better fit for our horses and the goals of our racing stable.”|
–Todd Pletcher, Eclipse Award-winning trainer
“Owners and trainers who compete at the highest level prefer a dirt track. For us, being based in New York, it’s what our horses are used to running on. Keeneland’s return to dirt will provide greater consistency for horses shipping in from New York, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and other tracks around the U.S.”
–Kiaran McLaughlin, leading trainer
“Keeneland’s return to a more traditional dirt surface will help attract a greater number of top stakes horses, and those horses contending for the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships”.
–Will Farish, owner, Lane’s End Farm
“We have been pleased with the performance of the fillies that have come out of the Central Bank Ashland Stakes over the last several years, but a return to dirt for Keeneland will only enhance the potential for these horses as they compete for the Kentucky Oaks and beyond in their 3-year-old racing season, cementing the Central Bank Ashland as the premier Kentucky Oaks prep race.”
–Luther Deaton, President, Central Bank
-from Keeneland website.
In defence of Tapeta
Michael Dickinson has defended the Tapeta surface used at Meydan after it suffered some high-profile criticism.
Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, the brother of Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, said in an interview with Gulf News that the synthetic surface was inconsistent.
But former trainer Dickinson, who developed the surface, told Press Association Sport: “I have been very happy with the performance of the Tapeta track.
“All the races have been fair and on a level playing field. Above all it was safe, and all the horses appear to have come home safe and sound. The winners have come from all corners of the globe, from Abu Dhabi, South Africa, Ireland, England and Hong Kong.
“The Golden Shaheen was six furlongs run in 1.10 minutes, which is what you would expect from horse of that calibre. All the jockeys and trainers I’ve spoken to have been happy with the track. Tapeta have had three people helping the ground staff crew prepare for the big night.
“It’s a world-class track for world-class performers. They have come from North, South, East and West and all delivered their best. Hong Kong trainer John Moore was thrilled with the surface and his jockey Joao Moreira said it was fabulous.”
– from Sky Sports.