Synthetic racetrack surfaces for horse racing
A synthetic racetrack surface is any kind of surface substance that replaces grass, dirt or sand as the racing surface on a horse racing track. Synthetic surfaces may be desirable over traditional surfaces for several reasons, most prominently the reduction of injuries and possible deaths to horses because of less wear and tear on their legs (although the statistical evidence thus far is not definitive), and consistent racing conditions in inclement weather. Manufacturers of synthetic racetrack surface materials promote the fact that synthetic tracks have drainage attributes that are better than natural surfaces, which makes tracks to be rated as fast under circumstances that would normally result in sloppy, slow or muddy conditions. In other situations such as cold weather, These surfaces allow racing to be continued when it might otherwise be canceled.
The first synthetic surface ever to be used for thoroughbred racing was not a replacement for dirt, but instead for turf (grass). Tropical Park's Tartan turf, a synthetic surface similar to Astroturf, was installed in 1966 and used as an alternate inside turf track for several seasons. Tartan turf was never a success with horsemen. Since then, there has been no known artificial turf track surface put into use at a public track.
The first synthetic surface to replace dirt was installed at Remington Park in Oklahoma City in 1988. This surface, called Equitrack, was found to be unsatisfactory and removed and replaced with a traditional dirt surface in 1991 after maintenance difficulties and complaints from horsemen.
Current types of synthetic surface materials
There are several companies that produce and build synthetic tracks, but with minor variations the process and materials used are basically the same. A unique type of foundation that allows vertical drainage is the key feature of all installations.
Synthetic Surfaces for Mainland Australia
Mainland Australia has a very different climate to Europe and America and for this reason the materials used to manufacture synthetic horse racing tracks must be altered to suit the Mainland Australian climate.
Mainland Australia can experience temperatures ranging from -5C/23F to above 50C/122F as well as seasonal flood events and extended “Heat-Wave” periods that can last up to a month.
In 1998 researchers at Pro-Ride Racing made the discovery that the use of wax as a binder for synthetic tracks would not work in the Australian Climate. The extreme heat would cause the wax to melt and sink to the bottom of the footing, in some cases blocking the drainage system below the synthetic track.
Four types of synthetic horse racing & training tracks have been installed on Mainland Australia to date: Thorough-Track, Cushion Track, Viscoride and Pro-Ride®.
Thorough-Track, Cushion Track and Viscoride (All wax based) are no longer installing tracks on Mainland Australia due to their product failing to maintain viscosity under the harsh Mainland Australian conditions.
The only synthetic horse racing tracks that have been installed on Mainland Australia recently is the Non-Wax based Pro-Ride® surface.
Recently Wax-Based tracks at Geelong (Mainland Australia), Cranbourne (Mainland Australia) and Flemington (Mainland Australia) have been replaced with the Pro-Ride® Non-Wax formula.
Issues with Wax-Based Synthetic tracks have also been noticed in other areas of the world where the climate is warmer – Rebecca Dynon (Stiriline Racing 2010 Award Winner) inspected a wax-based synthetic track at the Singapore Race Club and presented her findings at the 2011 ARMA Conference on the 15th August 2011.
Rebecca reported that if the ambient temperature was above 27 deg C/80 deg F then that track temperature would exceed 40 deg C/104 deg F and cause the track to become soft. The track would then need to be watered to reduce the surface temperature by 2-3 deg C/25-27 deg F. Rebecca also reported that water would need to be applied if the ambient temperature fell below 0 deg C/32 deg F to soften the track as it would become firm.
Polytrack has now become synonymous with synthetic racing surfaces. In practice, the term might refer to any kind of synthetic horse racing surface, much as "Kleenex" is often used to refer to any facial tissue, or "Hoover" in relation to any vacuum cleaner.
Polytrack has the texture of natural dirt but is lighter in color. It is a mixture of silica sand (80-90%), recycled synthetic fibers (carpet & spandex) and recycled rubber. In cold climates, the mixture may also include jelly cable (plastic insulation from copper phone wire). The entire mixture is coated with wax.
Polytrack makes up approximately the top seven inches of the racing surface, and requires an extensive drainage system before it is applied. The existing dirt surface is removed first, and a system of pipes is installed. Crushed rock comes next, then a layer of porous macadam, followed by the synthetic. The maintenance program requires regular removal of manure because, over an extended period of time, manure will break down the Polytrack surface and dry out the wax coating.
To date it has been installed at:
- Arlington Park (USA)
- Del Mar Racetrack (USA)
- Keeneland Race Course (USA)
- Turfway Park (USA)
- Woodbine Racetrack (Canada)
- Kempton Park Racecourse (UK)
- Lingfield Park Racecourse (UK) (2001/2002)
- Wolverhampton Racecourse (UK)
- Great Leighs Racecourse (UK)
- Dundalk Stadium (Ireland)
- Kranji (Singapore)
- Cagnes Sur Mer (France)
- Istanbul (Turkey)
- Marseille (France)
- Toowoomba (Australia)
Tapeta Footings consists of sand, fiber, rubber and a unique brand of wax. Tapeta uses pre-consumer fibers, not recycled, due to their claims that second-hand waste material breaks down after only about 12 weeks. The Tapeta mix makes up the top 4-7 inches of the racing surface, followed by either porous asphalt or a geotextile membrane which separates the porous base from the top layer.
To date it has been installed at:
Cushion Track is a mixture of two grades of sand, synthetic fibers, elastic fiber, and granulated rubber. The material is coated with a blend of wax. Cushion Track makes up approximately the top nine inches of the racing surface, followed by a geotextile membrane which separates the porous base from the top layer.
Santa Anita Park sued Cushion Track Footing and its related company, Equestrian Surfaces International, in 2008. In the lawsuit, Santa Anita claimed that Cushion Track used a "fine, silt-like sand that contributed to the failure of the track surface." Santa Anita had to cancel 11 days of racing due to poor drainage. Brett Thomson of Contour Consulting Engineers said that Santa Anita rushed to build the track and put it down wrong, installing asphalt underneath the Cushion Track as opposed to a membrane. The asphalt became clogged by sand and subsequently broke up when maintenance workers tried to power wash it to open up drainage pockets. The asphalt became a further problem when the broken pieces rose to the surface and forced some jockeys to wear protective plastic shields over their faces to block pieces kicked up by horses in front of them.
To date it has been installed at:
- Hollywood Park Racetrack (USA)
- Santa Anita Park (USA) (2007-2008) (Returned to regular dirt in late 2010)
- Sunshine Coast Turf Club (Australia)
- Toowoomba Turf Club (Australia)
Pro-Ride Racing has installed training and racing footings at the following Racing Clubs:
- Flemington Racecourse (Australia)
- Geelong Racecourse (Australia)
- Cranbourne Training Complex (Australia)
- Ballarat Turf Club (Australia)
- Clarence River Jockey Club (Australia)
- Coffs Harbour Racing Club (Australia)
- Newcastle Jockey Club (Australia)
- Morphettville Racecourse (Australia)
- Gosford Race Club (Australia)
- Rosehill Gardens Racecourse (Australia)
Pro-Ride Racing has installed training footings at the following Private Training centres:
- Lindsay Park (Australia)
- Osbourne Park (Australia)
- Macedon Lodge (Australia)
- Southwell Racecourse (UK)
- ^ Short history of Tropical Park by Hale, Ron (1997) (retrieved May 2, 2008 from about.com)
- ^ Remington Park will keep its dirt racetrack
- ^ 
- ^ USAToday.com: Breaking new ground for horse racing
- ^ A “Cushier” Future for California racing
- ^ Polytrack.com
- ^ 
- ^ 
- ^ HollywoodPark.com
- ^ Hollywood Park's Cushion Track Renovated
- ^ ESPN.com: Santa Anita sues Cushion Track
- ^ 
- ^ BloodHorse.com Santa Anita to Close for Track Fix
- ^ 
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