February 2014

SportsTurf provides current, practical and technical content on issues relevant to sports turf managers, including facilities managers. Most readers are athletic field managers from the professional level through parks and recreation, universities.

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36 SportsTurf | February 2014 For starters, owners and trainers want to race their horses over surfaces—be they turf, dirt or synthetic, the three main types in North America—that minimize the risk of injury. If a racetrack wants to attract the top horses in training, which translates into in- creased betting, they need to have perfectly groomed and manicured ovals. There are typically so many tracks running on any given day that horse owners have the luxury of choosing the ones that are kind- est to their pricey investments. Meanwhile, these racing surfaces need to withstand the pounding of weather as well as the pounding of hooves. If a turf course takes 2 inches of rain overnight, will it be dry enough to run across the next day without ruining it for weeks after? If there are thousands of divots in the grass from one race, will the maintenance team be able to have them filled before the next one? Gamblers prefer betting on turf races, so every time a contest scheduled for the grass course can't be run on its intended surface it can cost a major racetrack tens of thou- sands of dollars. Consistency is also key. Handicappers insist on surfaces that give every horse a fair chance of winning, regardless of whether the horse is a "pacesetter" or a "closer." Surfaces that aren't cared for diligently are more likely to develop a "bias," which is racing parlance for a con- sistency that favors one style over another. If the soil is more packed together on the inside of a track, horses racing along the rail will have a distinct advantage because it will take them less effort to skip across it. Similarly, a turf course with too much water in it can favor the closers, horses who do their best running in the late stages of a race, as the early leaders will use up precious energy digging into the sodden ground. Anytime gamblers notice a significant bias at a track, they will wager less money because they perceive the races as un- fair. Safety is still another reason why high quality surfaces go hand-in-hand with good track management. If any of your ma- terial is too hard it can endanger the lives of horses and riders. The 1,200-pound horse running 40 miles per hour is more likely to break a leg if it is pounding its hooves on a dry course that plays like asphalt. Meanwhile, for the jockey that falls off, the "give" in a surface can mean the difference between career-ending paralysis and minor bruising. It is with all of this in mind that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the membership-based trade organization with offices in New York City and Lexington, KY, has supported the Track Superintendents' and Arena Managers' Field Day since its inception in 2001. "We started the track superintendent meetings to learn from one another, as well as share information about new techniques and technologies being used by other tracks," said George Mc- Dermott, former track superintendent at Lone Star Park, a pre- mier Thoroughbred and American Quarter Horse racing venue in the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth that hosted the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in 2004. Twelve years later, what started as a modest gathering has turned into an essential conference for track maintenance professionals. The 2013 Field Day, hosted in August at the Del Mar Thorough- bred Club near San Diego, at- tracted a record 120 registrants from six countries and US territo- Facility & Operations W hile horses are, naturally, the focus of Thor- oughbred racing fans, it is the ground be- neath them that is the focus, if not obsession, of track executives. After all, it is the quality, fairness and consistency of a racetrack's sur- faces that can make the difference between popularity and scorn, profit and loss, or even life and death. Image above: Credit to Penelope Miller/NTRA. Samller image (left): © Horse racing's Field Day a winning bet for track superintendents Anytime gamblers notice a significant bias at a track, they will wager less money because they perceive the races as unfair.

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