LEXINGTON, KY (Aug. 28, 2014) – Keeneland today unveiled a new dirt racing surface that was installed this summer on its 1 1/16-mile main track. The dirt track is now open for training and will be featured when racing resumes at Keeneland for the Fall Meet, Oct. 3-25.
The dirt surface, comprised of sand, silt and clay native to Kentucky, features a unique drainage system designed to collect and discharge water consistently away from the track.
“The new materials and advanced technology available to monitor consistency and moisture content in the racing surface have enabled us to build a world-class dirt track that will be as safe as possible for horse and rider,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “We are proud of the renovation and excited to welcome owners and trainers back to Keeneland.”
Conversion of the main track from a synthetic Polytrack surface to a dirt surface began May 19. Construction was completed on schedule in mid-August and the track was turned over to the track maintenance crew for conditioning.
“This dirt track represents more than a year of study and testing with regard to materials, water drainage and track maintenance, but our job is not done,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing W.B. Rogers Beasley said. “We want to be part of the national dialogue about track maintenance and safety. The data we retrieve from our ongoing research will be an opportunity to move the industry forward.”
Keeneland officials embarked on the project in earnest long before construction began, assembling in June 2013 a team of experts who consulted with Dr. Mick Peterson, executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, to develop the safest, most consistent racing surface possible.
“Keeneland has addressed the single most critical factor in both dirt and turf track maintenance and design: moisture content,” Dr. Peterson said. “In addition to a novel drainage system, Keeneland has committed to an ongoing study of the way water is applied by the water truck, how the water evaporates from a dirt racing surface and the maintenance response to rain. By committing to understanding the single biggest variable in dirt race track design and maintenance, Keeneland is not only providing a superior racing surface but also supplying technology that can be used throughout the industry.”
During the winter of 2013 and into early spring of 2014, Keeneland, together with Dr. Nancy Cox, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture; Dr. Ole Wendroth, professor of plant and soil sciences; and Robert Brashear, assistant dean for facilities management, developed a test site on UK’s North Farm near Lexington. The site, which measured 20 feet x 120 feet, was created to simulate a section of dirt track, allowing experts to experiment with materials, water drainage, slope and grade.
Construction of the dirt track got underway in mid-May when workers began removing 16,000 tons of Polytrack to reach the existing layer of porous asphalt that covers a complex drainage system installed during the 2006 track renovation.
The porous asphalt was then covered by Mirafi 140N geotextile fabric, which maintains the integrity of the 26,000 tons of Class I sand placed on top of it to form the base of the track.
The dirt track features a unique drainage system, the first of its kind in North America, along the inside and outside rails that works in tandem with the existing system beneath the track.
Under the inside rail and along the outer rail through the straights and chutes, interlocking EcoRain drainage cells filled with pea gravel were stacked horizontally and covered by a flexible porous paving material made from recycled tires. This system is designed to consistently collect and discharge water into the existing drainage system and away from the track surface.
A blend of approximately 19,000 tons of sand, silt and clay native to Kentucky forms the main track’s six-inch racing surface. The surface composition consists of approximately 87.5 percent sand and 12.5 percent clay and silt.
Keeneland will employ GPS technology via custom-made equipment to carefully monitor the consistency of the dirt racing surface. The data gained will be an invaluable tool in outlining proper maintenance, which is a key to making the track as safe as possible for horse and rider.