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Home First Posted: Dec 30, 2010
Dec 30, 2010

Horse Racing Track Surfaces

There are several types of surfaces used on horse racing tracks: dirt, sand, turf (grass), and synthetic. The type of racing surface can make a huge difference on the speed of the race as well as the safety to the horse and jocky. Let's take a look.

A synthetic racetrack surface is any kind of surface substance that replaces grass, dirt or sand as the racing surface on a horse racing track. Synthetic surfaces may be desirable over traditional surfaces for several reasons, most prominently the reduction of injuries and possible deaths to horses because of less wear and tear on their legs (although the statistical evidence thus far is not definitive), and consistent racing conditions in inclement weather. Manufacturers of synthetic racetrack surface materials promote the fact that synthetic tracks have drainage attributes that are better than natural surfaces, which makes tracks to be rated as fast under circumstances that would normally result in sloppy, slow or muddy conditions. In other situations such as cold weather, These surfaces allow racing to be continued when it might otherwise be canceled.

The first synthetic surface ever to be used for thoroughbred racing was not a replacement for dirt, but instead for turf (grass). Tropical Park's Tartan turf, a synthetic surface similar to Astroturf, was installed in 1966 and used as an alternate inside turf track for several seasons. Tartan turf was never a success with horsemen. Since then, there has been no known artificial turf track surface put into use at a public track.

The first synthetic surface to replace dirt was installed at Remington Park in Oklahoma City in 1988. This surface, called Equitrack, was found to be unsatisfactory and removed and replaced with a traditional dirt surface in 1991 after maintenance difficulties and complaints from horsemen.

Current types of synthetic surface materials. There are several such types of synthetic racetrack surfaces being used worldwide.


(from Martin Collins Enterprises/International) The Polytrack all-weather track is a patented synthetic surface for racetracks. Polytrack (which was invented by Englishman Martin Collins) has now become synonymous with racing surfaces. In practice, the term might refer to any kind of synthetic horse racing surface, much as "Kleenex" is often used to refer to any facial tissue, or "Hoover" in relation to any vacuum cleaner.

Polytrack has the texture of natural dirt but is lighter in color. It is a mixture of sand, synthetic fibers and recycled rubber coated with a "microcrystalline wax" and mixed on-site, according to the manufacturer. One must also note the failure of the early version of this material first known as "Equitrack." Remington Park used Equitrack as its surface when the facility first opened in 1988. The synthetic surface had numerous problems and its use was abandoned after a few seasons. The Equitrack was replaced with an ordinary dirt surface, which Remington Park still uses to this day.

Polytrack makes up approximately the top six inches of the racing surface, and requires an extensive drainage system before it is applied. The existing dirt surface is removed first, and a system of pipes is installed. Crushed rock comes next, then a layer of porous macadam, followed by the synthetic.

To date it has been installed at:

Arlington Park (USA)
Del Mar Racetrack (USA)
Keeneland Race Course (USA)
Turfway Park (USA)
Woodbine Racetrack (Canada)
Kempton Park Racecourse (UK)
Lingfield Park Racecourse (UK) (2001/2002)
Wolverhampton Racecourse (UK)
Great Leighs Racecourse (UK)
Dundalk Stadium (Ireland)
Kranji (Singapore)
Cagnes Sur Mer (France)
Istanbul (Turkey)
Marseille (France)
[edit] Fibresand
Southwell Racecourse (UK)

Cushion Track (from Equestrian Surfaces) To date it has been installed at:

Hollywood Park Racetrack (USA)
Santa Anita Park (USA) (2007-2008)
Sunshine Coast Turf Club(Australia)
Toowoomba Turf Club(Australia)

As a result of drainage problems with Santa Anita Park's originally installed Cushion Track synthetic surface, in the winter of 2008 it was rejuvenated by the Australian makers of Pro-Ride all weather synthetic track. Subsequently, the Cushion Track was replaced by a Pro-Ride surface in the summer of 2008. That surface also proved unsuitable, and Santa Anita is replacing it with a traditional dirt surface.

Pro-Ride (from Pro-Ride Racing Australia)
Santa Anita Park (USA) (2008-2010)
Morphettville Racecourse (Australia)
Broadmeadow Racecourse (Australia)
Gosford Race Club (Australia)

Tapeta Footings

Tapeta Footings is a synthetic track surface designed by trainer Michael W. Dickinson. To date it has been installed at:

Golden Gate Fields (USA)
Presque Isle Downs (USA)
Meydan Racecourse (UAE)
Al Quoz (UAE)

For More Information:

The Jockey Club Reports Drop in Thoroughbred Fatalities
Equine Racing Fatalities: Does Track Surface Matter? (AAEP 2010)
Breeders' Cup: Last Prep Surface in the Synthetic Era
Synthetic Vs. Dirt Debate Lingers On Like a Bad Stewards Inquiry