Keeneland Race Track Maintenance and Study Key to Safer Surfaces


Keeneland is dedicated to providing the safest and most consistent dirt and turf racing surfaces in the industry. This commitment is reflected in the significant investment Keeneland has made in its unique race track design, ongoing research and study, the use of state-of-the-art equipment and year-round best practices employed by our race track team.

Keeneland track and equine safety officials work in consultation with Dr. Mick Peterson, director of the University of Kentucky’s Ag Equine Program and co-founder of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, and Dr. John “Trey” Rogers, professor of Turfgrass Management at Michigan State University, to apply the latest science and technology to maintain the safest racing surfaces possible. 

Keeneland shares its data and knowledge with the entire racing industry and particularly with other Kentucky tracks to create consistency among racing surfaces across the state’s racing circuit.

In 2014, Keeneland track officials undertook more than a year of research and testing of materials, water drainage systems and race track design before installing its main dirt track. The 1 1/16-dirt track is a blend of approximately 19,000 tons of sand, silt and clay native to Kentucky.

The drainage system under the track is key to maintaining a consistent racing surface. Beneath the track is a layer of porous asphalt that covers the complex vertical drainage system installed during a massive track renovation in 2006. The asphalt is covered by Mirafi 140N geotextile fabric, which maintains the integrity of the 26,000 tons of limestone screenings (Class I sand) on top of it that form the base of the race track.

Under the inside rail and along the outer rail through the straights and chutes, 27,500 interlocking EcoRain drainage cells filled with pea gravel are stacked horizontally and covered by a flexible porous paving material made from recycled tires. This system, the first of its kind in North America, collects and discharges water into the existing drainage system and away from the track.

Keeneland’s 7-furlong turf course is a mix of rye, bluegrass and tall fescue which grows best during the cooler spring and fall seasons. The turf course sits atop a foundation of sand, silt and clay which helps create a soft, springy race course.

In consultation with Dr. John “Trey” Rogers, professor of Turfgrass Management at Michigan State University, Director of Racing Surfaces Jim Pendergest and Track Superintendent Alfredo Laureano have incorporated new maintenance protocols to further enhance the strength and durability of the turf course. Divots in the turf course are now watered to shorten their reattachment time, while pre-germinated seed that has been soaked in water 48-60 hours is used in the divot mix. Keeneland also employs a mowing strategy that helps the grass grow denser and frequently rolls the course to keep the ground smooth.

The turf track features an innovative Mawsafe Turf Rail designed to spring and bend similar to the ropes around a boxing ring, absorbing the impact of a horse and rider and allowing the rider to safely guide his or her mount back onto the turf course. “Kick out” uprights on the rail allow for a pivotal, slip-free connection to the base plate. The design enables the upright to swing away should a fallen rider hit it. Upon impact, several uprights can slip free without losing the integrity of the railing. 

Keeneland also has a 5-furlong all-weather training track which is open year-round. The main track is closed through the winter months, reopening in mid-March before the Spring Meet.

Daddy Is a Legend runs through the rail during the 2018 Pin Oak Valley View