Managing a Sloppy Track


It’s rained all week in Maryland. There’s been so much rain that the Fair Hill International three-day event was cancelled because organizers felt the footing was dangerous. According to Chris Bosley, Pimlico’s maintenance superintendent, According to Bosley, the track has already received around 3 to 4 inches of rain this week.

How, then, will they prepare the track for tomorrow’s Preakness?

“It’s not ideal track conditions, but we’re doing everything we can,” Bosley said outside his office Thursday as the rain came down. “We‘re taking floats out and trying to get it to seal, get tight underneath [the surface] so the horses aren’t running through as you say a slip-and-slide. It is what it is.”
Baltimore Sun

Managing the Pimlico track surface
When the weather is dry, the track is harrowed and then sprayed with water.

The Pimlico track surface is a combination of sand, clay and silt and requires extensive maintenance to keep it in good racing conditions. When the weather is dry, crews drive tractors pulling 5-ton rollers to compress the soil, then drag it with harrows to break it up. On a normal day, seven truckloads of water, each carrying 3,500 gallons, are sprayed before racing begins. Another 6,000 gallons are sprayed between races.

When the track is wet, keeping it safe for horses and jockeys is even tougher.

The racetrack is ”sealed” by rolling it with heavy equipment to pack it down, so that the rainfall will flow off the track and not soak into the dirt.  And then periodically amid steady rain, they will pull what is known as a float over the surface — a flat slab of metal that squeezes water to the surface. Bosley said, the floats, which weigh close to a ton, come out behind tractors each morning when the horses are not working out and after each race Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Sealing the tract at Keeneland
It’s impossible to find modern pictures of a racetrack being sealed. This images is from the 1960s and shows “floats” being dragged by horses over the Keeneland track in Kentucky.

“As we’re dragging [the floats], they compress what we call the cushion — what the sand is and what the horses run on — and that makes it as tight as it can possibly get,” Bosley said. “It squeezes the water out and it runs down the banking of the track into the gutter.”

“It’s holding as well as you can expect to in these type of conditions,” Bosley said. “People ask you with this weather, what’s the condition of the track. It’s sloppy, but sloppy can mean a lot of different things. You run the floats over and it’ll pack it down, and it will keep a good bottom to it. Everything is about the horses. You try to make it as fair and as safe as you possibly can.”

Churchill Downs and Pimlico use the same mixture for the track surface, but the courses have their own personalities.  Pimlico is usually thought of as a faster track because they keep the dirt tamped down firmer, which gives the horses more traction. Since both races have been run under muddy conditions, there shouldn’t be too much difference in the tracks from horses’ perspectives.

Some horses definitely prefer muddy conditions. Curlin, who is the sire of both Good Magic and Tenfold, was a “mudder” and he may have passed along this trait to his offspring.

Bob Baffert isn’t worried. He says that Justify, “brings the track with him,” meaning he can run on any kind of surface.

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One thought on “Managing a Sloppy Track

  1. Reblogged this on L. R. Trovillion and commented:
    Equine Ink produced an interesting post on how Pimlico is managing the sloppy track conditions. I was there two days ago in the rain (and it has been raining ever since) to watch the horses’ morning workouts. The track had cups of standing water then. Best of luck today Preakness horses and riders, and above all, stay safe!

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