Keeneland switches to dirt track




By Sarah Brookbank

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The Breeders’ Cup has finally made its way home to Lexington and the updated track was a contributing factor.

Before the 2014 Fall Meet, Keeneland switched back to a dirt track after more than seven years of having a synthetic track.

Synthetic tracks gained popularity in the 2000’s, marketed as safer and weather-friendly surfaces. Keenland’s old synthetic surface was Polytrack.

The track was a, “wax-coated synthetic equestrian surface … that mimics turf” according to the manufacturer Martin Collins website. The new dirt surface is a mix of a sand, clay and silt mixture.

According to the Equine Fatality Summary for Keenland, in 2012 three horses suffered fatal injuries on synthetic, one in 2013, two in 2014 on dirt and none on synthetic. In 2015 there have been four horses who suffered fatal injuries on the dirt track.

According to the Jockey Club, dirt tracks had 2.08 fatal injuries versus 1.22 per 1,000 starts from 2009 to 2014. With four horses suffering fatal injuries at Keeneland shortly before one of the biggest events in horse racing, questions were raised by many.

Despite the recent injuries at Keeneland, spokeswoman Amy Gregory said they have followed all maintenance protocols and have worked closely with track experts.

“We have the upmost confidence in our track,” Gregory said.

Aspiring trainer and equine management junior Corbin Blumberg has worked at the track for five years and is also working with Grand Motion.

Blumberg said Keeneland’s decision to switch back to dirt was seen by some as a decision not made due to safety, but as monetary. Blumberg disagrees.

“I think the surface they put in at Keeneland was phenomenal. I think the dirt track they have in is really nice,” said Blumberg. “They spent a lot of money to put in the dirt track. The racing has improved quality wise.”

Blumberg said Keeneland has changed since they switched back to a dirt track, “It definitely increased the quality of the horses that were coming back here.”