LEXINGTON, Ky. Keeneland announced today that it is 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 May 19 and be completed Aug. 15. The track will reopen for training Sept. 1. The Fall Meet begins Oct. 3.
“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.