You’ve heard the names: Cushion Track, Polytrack, Tapeta, StaLok. They are the trademark names of the major players in racing’s latest frontier: the new North American market to replace dirt tracks with synthetic ones.
Pardon the pun, but on the surface, there is little difference between their products. And, ahem, pun No. 2, they all claim to have a track record of success.
The four main players all offer a product that consists of high-quality sand, fibers, and in some cases rubber, mixed and coated with an oil-based wax product that sits atop an elaborate drainage system.
Doubters are, for now, few. An overwhelming majority of trainers approve of the fair, forgiving surfaces. Owners envision healthy horses that stay in training longer. Track officials dream of full fields. Everybody would love fewer breakdowns.
And while the race is on to pitch their products to racing associations across the continent, these new entrepreneurs are all on the same page: they’re providing a safe and fair racing surface for Thoroughbred training and racing.
“It’s safety for the horse and safety for the rider, period,” said trainer Michael Dickinson, who owns Tapeta Footings along with Joan Wakefield. “Don’t get bogged down in mindless, unimportant trivia–it’s safety for the horse and rider, period. Nothing else really matters.”
The safety record so far in North America gives ample proof synthetic surfaces are the path of the future. At The Jockey Club Round Table Conference last month in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., a presentation was made on the “Synthetic Surface Era.” Speaking on behalf of Turfway Park was track president and CEO Robert Elliston.
Turfway offered North America’s first racing on Polytrack, opening last September. Its marathon winter/ spring meet ran from December to early April.