View Full Version : New Del Mar Surface

07-17-2007, 05:45 PM
There has been a lot of talk about the new Del Mar polytrack surface. Supposedly it will not favor speed. They even lowered the bank of the turns from 4.5 feet to 3 feet to try to give the inside speed horses a better chance.

Opening day is Wednesday.

Anyone with thoughts or info?


07-17-2007, 05:53 PM
Here is a short article, but still have not read anything pertaining to changes in the bank of the track. I will keep an eye out though, since this type of information would be quite useful. Supposedly with this new surface, "track biases" should not expected...we shall see.

Del Mar Polytrack passes test
Steve Andersen, Daily Racing Form 7/13/2007
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Bob Hess Jr. admits to getting little sleep Wednesday night. With the first day of training on Del Mar's new Polytrack synthetic surface looming Thursday, Hess tossed and turned, worried about how his horses would handle the surface.

"I was having nightmares about it," he said.

By late morning Thursday, Hess said his concern was a false alarm. Like several other trainers who sent horses over the surface for the first time Thursday, Hess gave the course a positive review.

"I thought it was wonderful," Hess said. "I was pretty skeptical, probably out of ignorance. You listen to people shooting their mouths off, all the complainers, but it was like running on velvet."

Del Mar is the second track in Southern California to install a synthetic surface, and the first to install a Polytrack brand surface. The track completed a rewaxing of the surface Wednesday, in time for the start of training Thursday.

Thursday's training session was not busy, with many of the circuit's horses still based at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. Del Mar's synthetic surface will have a more serious test at the beginning of next week, when more stables arrive, and on Wednesday afternoon, when the race meeting begins.

One concern is how the course will react to the warm and windy afternoon conditions that will be prevalent during the meeting, which runs through Sept. 5.

"We remain cautiously optimistic," director of racing Tom Robbins said. "As the days heat up, we'll continue to monitor it through the warmer hours, but so far, so good."

Trainer Mike Mitchell quizzed his staff about the surface, and got positive feedback. "I was throwing out things like, 'Was it too deep?' and they said, 'No,'" Mitchell said. "The reports I've gotten were really good. It's wonderful news."

Trainers Richard Matlow and David Hofmans compared the surface to the way the Hollywood Park Cushion Track surface played when it was installed last September.

"It seems similar to me," Matlow said. "They didn't come back blowing real hard, they didn't sweat, and they seemed to handle it fine."

Hofmans had half of his barn at Del Mar on Thursday and said: "They got over the track really well. It reminded me of the Cushion Track when they first put it in."

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens exercised two horses for trainer Wesley Ward and said the track "was in great shape."

He said a synthetic track will make Del Mar a safer course during morning training since the track will no longer need renovation. Without renovation, there will no longer be the surge of activity that occurred after the track had been groomed. Instead, traffic is expected to be steadier through the morning training hours of 4:30 to 10 a.m.

"There will be no problem with the traffic," Stevens said.

07-18-2007, 12:34 PM
Long article but worth the read:

Del Mar's new surface has uneven track record
Elsewhere, the artificial turf has not met horse safety expectations.
By Lance Pugmire, Times Staff Writer
July 18, 2007

At the end of last summer's Del Mar thoroughbred racing meet, one somber statistic overshadowed all others: 19 horses were dead, victims of catastrophic injuries at the track.

One veteran horseman described the seaside venue that season as "a killing field." But incidents of track fatalities were hardly unique to Del Mar.

Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro's stunning breakdown at last year's Preakness already had brought the dark side of thoroughbred horse racing to the front pages of newspapers around the world.

And with 240 horse deaths on state tracks from 2003 to 2005, the California Horse Racing Board had ordered mandatory state track improvements.

That order required replacement of inconsistent dirt-racing surfaces with more uniform and safer artificial turf. The statewide makeover is nearly complete, and Del Mar is set to open the 2007 racing season today with its new $9-million synthetic track — but not without lingering controversy.

Substantial questions have been raised by horsemen and other racing executives surveyed by The Times over whether Del Mar's new track is safe enough.

Even before the first furlong of racing at the San Diego County site, flaws were discovered in the newly installed track. Costly repairs were completed last week, but on Monday some trainers canceled workouts after questioning the repaired track's surprising firmness — a condition that was corrected by Tuesday.

Continuing concerns about the track's ability to hold up under heavy daily use also have prompted Del Mar officials to reduce the number of horses permitted in their stables this season.

Del Mar's dirt track was replaced this year with a synthetic surface developed by Englishman Martin Collins called Polytrack, a 7-inch-deep mixture of silica sand, recycled rubber, fibers and wax covering a blacktop base and drainage system.

Such artificial surfaces have been successfully used in the United Kingdom, but in North America they have encountered criticism and complaints.

In Kentucky and Canada, for example, troubles with other Polytrack-installed surfaces forced races to be canceled and required expensive alterations. In cold weather, the material tended to clump in the horses' hoofs, prompting some trainers to spray them with cooking oil before races.

Those problems were factors leading Hollywood Park and Santa Anita to hire rival manufacturer Cushion Track, according to executives of the two Los Angeles County tracks.

"America has been a very difficult market," conceded Polytrack inventor Collins.

Some of Collins' frustration may be directed at California Coastal Commission standards and environmental concerns that forced Del Mar to install a version of Polytrack without an ingredient called "jelly cable."

The substance is a waste product imported from China — chopped-up, lubricant-coated plastic previously used to insulate stripped copper wire. It was used in Polytrack turf installed at Chicago's Arlington Park and at Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky, where officials call the racing surface "outstanding."

Arlington's racing deaths declined from 14 in 2006 on a dirt surface to three racing on Polytrack, a track spokesman said.

But at Del Mar — where, as its famous advertising slogan declares, "the turf meets the surf" — concerns about copper contaminants fouling the shoreline arose after tests detected "higher levels of copper" in track water runoff.

Without the jelly cable, Del Mar's new surface reportedly became "loose" and "soupy" in the warmer afternoon hours, forcing eleventh-hour repairs.

Track officials, exercising further caution in advance of a 43-day meet, informed owners and trainers that they would stable only 2,200 horses during the race meet this year, a reduction of about 200 horses.

"We want to give this track the best chance we can give it," Del Mar Executive Vice President Craig Fravel said. "I believe synthetic tracks are the best thing that has ever happened to horse racing."

So, Del Mar braces — aware of problems with its track but confident that the artificial turf is safer than its old dirt surface.

Elsewhere, unhappy customers add a dose of caution to expectations.

"We're not satisfied with [Polytrack] after spending more than $10 million," said Jamie Martin, a spokesman for the company that operates the Woodbine horse racing track in Toronto.

"The track was bad, really dusty. It didn't perform. It wasn't what we paid for."

David Willmot, Woodbine's president and chief executive, said before a costly renovation procedure was initiated in May that his track was "broken." He complained openly that "we paid for a Cadillac and got a Chevrolet."

Both Woodbine and Kentucky's Turfway race track operated during periods of cold weather, but Canadian officials said wax components in their Polytrack turf broke down even before the cold snap.

At Turfway, the chief complaint was excessive kickback, or loose track material that flew up and pelted horses and riders during races.

"It looked like the covered-wagon days," one racing executive said.

Turfway veterinarian John Piehowicz blamed the artificial turf for three fatal injuries to horses and six damaged knees. He told the Louisville Courier-Journal that when balled-up particles of artificial turf clumped in the horses' hoofs, they hit the ground unevenly.

One jockey said it was as if the horses were trying to walk on stilts. The result was a rash of sprains and broken bones, some requiring the animals to be euthanized.

The Turfway track initially boasted a dramatic drop in horse fatalities after the switch from dirt to the synthetic surface declining from 24 deaths on dirt in 2004-05 to three on the new Polytrack surface in 2005-06.

However, there have been 14 fatal breakdowns in the latest meets, prompting plans to re-wax the surface in August.

"We'll continue to make steps to improve this track," Turfway President Bob Elliston said. He gave fellow track officials credit for having "the guts to move forward" laying artificial tracks even though the results have not been perfect.

But Del Mar's decision to install Polytrack despite known problems at the Kentucky and Canada tracks has puzzled other Southern California track officials.

It also has raised questions about potential conflicts of interest.

Polytrack's North American distributor is Keeneland, also an owner of Turfway in Kentucky. And Del Mar's Fravel is an acknowledged longtime friend of Keeneland President and Chief Executive Nick Nicholson. Both men dismissed suggestions of favoritism.

"That's beyond absurd," Nicholson said. "You can argue about the merits of the surface, but you can't argue about the [selection] process."

Fravel said he was sensitive to appearances of a conflict of interest and took himself off the selection committee. He said he made no recommendations and did no lobbying on behalf of his friend's product.

"I don't think [the friendship] played any role," Fravel said.

Fravel did, however, help design the bidding specifications, he told The Times. One of those specs, giving preference to bidders with five or more prior installations, favored Polytrack over newer competitors, including Cushion Track, which at that time had just installed its first track surface at Hollywood Park.

The Del Mar selection committee picked Polytrack on Nov. 20. By then, Hollywood Park had operated on rival Cushion Track for only 18 days, not enough time to judge its relative quality, Del Mar officials said.

Today, Hollywood Park officials are giving the rival turf good reviews. President Jack Liebau said "there's no question" his new Cushion Track "is better and safer than dirt." He reported four horse fatalities in a 63-day meet.

Santa Anita chose Cushion Track this year and installation is underway.

Santa Anita President Ron Charles said a key factor in the decision was the consistency of having almost identical racing surfaces at his track and Hollywood Park.

"We believe the horsemen will appreciate this consistency," Charles said.

With all sides of the turf rivalry agreeing on the prime goal — improved safety for horses and riders — the move to artificial racing surfaces is certain to spread, even as the manufacturers are working out the bugs and flaws.

At Del Mar last week, watching the horses train on his new turf, Polytrack's Collins acknowledged the pressure.

"We are on a learning curve here," he said. "The waxes alter in hot and cold temperatures. It swells in the hot and tightens in the cold…. We never had to deal with [such variables] in England. It's a very difficult job."

Waiting for all the problems to be solved is not acceptable to Keeneland's Nicholson.

But, "if you want racing in California to be perfect, I'd say don't race for 10 years, and wait for the rest of us to work out the kinks," he said.

07-19-2007, 12:25 PM
Track looks like it may be a winner at Del Mar
Polytrack surface gets good reviews on opening day, although it's a little slow. One horse breaks down, but it's on the turf course.
By Larry Stewart, Times Staff Writer
July 19, 2007

DEL MAR — Opening day at Del Mar on Wednesday, as usual, looked much like a fashion show, as 42,842 jammed the 70-year-old San Diego County racetrack.

The crowd was a record for opening day, but it fell short of the all-time mark of 44,181 for the 1996 Pacific Classic, when Cigar, going for a record 17th consecutive victory, lost to Dare And Go.

What was different about this opening day was the new $9-million Polytrack, which generally drew rave reviews.

"I think it is going to mean the revival of horse racing in California," said veteran trainer Kathy Walsh of Arcadia, even though her horse, Vauquelin, won the third division of the featured Oceanside Stakes on the turf course.

"Give it a chance," she said, referring to the new synthetic main track. "There are a lot of owners and trainers who do not like change and have strong opinions, but I think people are going to love it."

The only casualty of the day came during that turf race, the seventh. Mayor Bozarth, trained by Bobby Frankel, suffered an injury to his left hind leg and had to be euthanized.

Ten A Penny, ridden by Michael Baze, won the first division of the Oceanside, which was run as the first race, and Knockout Artist, also ridden by Baze, won the second division, which was the fourth race.

Vauquelin, who went off as the second favorite behind Mayor Bozarth, paid $7.00 to win. Longshot Knockout Artist paid $40.60 and Ten A Penny $4.80.

The first race run on the new track was the second, a $53,000 six-furlong maiden affair for fillies and mares 3 years old and up bred in California.

Special Smoke, a filly trained by Ray Bell of Arcadia and ridden by Jon Court, will go into the record books as the first winner on the new track.

"I feel very privileged to win any race, but this is special because she is the first to win on this track," Bell said.

Bell also raved about the track.

"Look at Jon," he said, pointing over at the jockey. "I've never seen him that clean after a race. That tells me there wasn't a problem with the kick back."

He was referring to material being kicked up into a jockey's face and silks from horses in front. And Court had a lot of opportunity to get dirty because Special Smoke was in the back of the pack on the backstretch.

Besides reporters complaining that it felt like walking on sticky cookie dough and it messed up their shoes, about the only complaint regarding the new track coming from trainers and jockeys was that it was slow.

Special Smoke's winning time of 1:13.95 is about three seconds slower than a normal winning time for a six-furlong race on dirt.

But that didn't concern Bell. "Time is only important when you're in prison," he said. "The important thing is that the horses stay sound."

Reached on his cellphone later in the day, Bell said, "The track is showing no bias. It doesn't seem to favor any horse whether that horse is in the front, the back or the middle of the pack. We saw favorites winning and longshots."

Court, Special Smoke's jockey, said, "The surface seems to provide an even playing field. Over a period of races, we'll be able to tell more. I'm happy with it. It feels good. It's equine friendly and the kick back is not severe. I'm glad we're moving forward to a surface that will create soundness for the horse."

Court also said the surface provides a smooth ride. "There is less jarring than on a traditional dirt track," he said.

Special Smoke battled Freedom Summit down the stretch and held on to win by a half-length.

David Flores, Freedom Summit's jockey, said, "I was the first loser on the surface. It feels good. We just have to adjust to it."

Joe Harper, Del Mar's chief executive, calling the day "a good party," added: "Polytrack did what it was supposed to do. Even the jockeys who lost liked it. . . . It performed great."