Keeneland backtracks to dirt

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Keeneland officials sent the horse racing world into a frenzy Wednesday afternoon when it issued a press release stating its plans to replace its Polytrack racing surface with a new state-of-the art dirt track this summer. Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., which opens its spring meet on Friday, April 4, installed its current Polytrack surface just before the fall meet in 2006.

“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.”

The schedule to replace the track will start after the close of the spring meet. The construction dates will occur May 19 through August 15 and the track will open for training beginning Sept. 1. The fall meet opens Oct. 3. Keeneland’s five-eighths mile training track will remain a Polytrack surface and will be open during construction.

After initial complaints in 2006 by horse racing fans unable to accurately handicap races over the synthetic surface had died down, many fans have come to love the surface for its consistency and safety. Although the annual numbers have fluctuated, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, fatalities over synthetic tracks have been drastically fewer than those occurring on a dirt surface. In numbers released earlier this week, Keeneland experienced only one fatality in 2,988 starts last year.

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