Fairview Polytrack Matching Expectations

PE's Polytrack is nearly a year old and performing to expectation, says Phumelela


Fairview Polytrack

Fairview Racecourse’s Polytrack is well along the path to its first anniversary and to date the synthetic surface has matched all expectations.

Installation of the surface was completed last September and the track was then opened for training purposes.  The first two races on Polytrack took place on the opening day of the Algoa Cup Festival on Friday 25 October with the first full race meeting only scheduled for a few weeks later. But heavy rain on the Saturday forced a change of plans and the entire meeting on Sunday 27 October, including the Algoa Cup, had to be switched from turf to Polytrack to save the fixture.

The meeting went off smoothly and compliments flowed freely from riders afterwards. Jockey Greg Cheyne said: “It was absolutely fantastic. The horses held their ground nicely and no one was slipping around the turn. It may look tight, but it is as good as any Polytrack anywhere in the world.”

Since then the Polytrack has saved another four turf race meetings from being lost due to rain and Phumelela Horseracing Executive Patrick Davis said to date the surface had delivered what was envisaged when it was installed.  “Polytrack’s ability to significantly reduce the number of meetings lost due to inclement weather and the resultant loss of income to horsemen, while simultaneously providing a sound racing surface, was one of the primary reasons for installing it in the first instance. Also, it does not require copious amounts of water, a key factor in an area where water shortages are commonplace,” Davis said.

Patrick Davis

Patrick Davis – Phumelela Racing Executive

“Predictably, there have been teething problems and trainers, jockeys and the track management team have all gone through a steep learning curve. Fortunately, champion trainer Mike de Kock agreed to share his insights into synthetic surfaces with horsemen in Port Elizabeth before we opened the track and that was invaluable.  “As was said at the outset, Polytrack is not a wonder surface and De Kock warned that certain horses should be kept well away from training or racing on the track. And like any racing surface, Polytrack is impacted by the weather with the surface tighter and faster when it’s cool, and looser and slower in warm weather. In very hot temperatures, we found that the track became too loose and generated excessive kickback, but that seems to have been resolved by watering when necessary,” Davis continued.  he added that as always the safety of horses and riders on the surface is an ongoing major concern and to that end complaints about the track were investigated and statistics of fatal breakdowns both in work and races are maintained and monitored.

“As Martin Collins, the inventor of Polytrack, has pointed out, trainers and horses have differing requirements from the surface, so it’s impossible to keep everybody happy. But in maintaining and preparing the surface, track staff strive for safety and to satisfy the majority of trainers.”  To 12 May there have been 1,929 runners on the Polytrack and on average about 2,500 horses train on it every month. There have been three fatal breakdowns – one in training and two in races (0.104%). There have been six fatalities on turf at Fairview in the same period – two in races and four in work.

Claims that kickback from the Polytrack was causing coughing were investigated by course veterinarian Charles Hayward. He scoped 13 horses, selecting those with one or more symptoms of fatigue, respiratory distress and facial kickback or making abnormal respiratory sounds or coughing.  He found that all 13 horses had dirt in their nasal passages, seven were completely clean in the trachea, six were bleeders, two had dirt in the pharynx and only one had singular grains of sand in the trachea.
He concluded that nasal contamination did pose a small problem, but haemorrhaging rather than particle contamination, was the cause of coughing and not the Polytrack.

Some of the Fairview synthetic track’s detractors have referred to Keeneland Racecourse in the USA deciding to lift its Polytrack and revert to dirt racing from Autumn this year as proof of the surface’s shortcomings.  The reality is that Keeneland’s decision has little to do with the capabilities of Polytrack and much more to do with the end of the USA’s brief flirtation with synthetic surfaces.
A few years back it seemed that many dirt tracks in the USA were set to be replaced by synthetic surfaces. But in a land where dirt racing is king, a wholesale switch to synthetic surfaces became unviable once it emerged that many more turf horses were effective on synthetic tracks than dirt horses.  That, in turn, has left USA racecourses with synthetic surfaces little option but to revert to dirt if they wish to attract the leading lights of American horseracing because the majority of owners and trainers favour dirt racing.

For the record, over the past five years the Keeneland Polytrack had 11 fatalities in 11,367 starts – less than one death (0.97) for every 1,000 starters. The figure for all synthetic surfaces in the USA during the same period was 1.22, significantly lower than the 2.08 fatalities per 1,000 starters on dirt and the 1.63 on turf.  “There’s no doubt Polytrack is a proven alternative surface to turf, but as with all racing surfaces the key to the continued success of the Fairview Polytrack will lie in the maintenance of the surface and trainers using the track responsibly,” Davis concluded.

(source:  Phumelela Gaming and Leisure Ltd)

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