Renovated main track, new course set for Aqueduct meet

Posted: Oct. 1, 2017

The renovation of the main track and installation of second turf course at Aqueduct Racetrack are almost complete, the New York Racing Association said Oct. 1.

The fall meet at Aqueduct begins Nov. 3 and ends Dec. 31. Training is now available at the track after a four-month hiatus during the racing surface renovation.

Glen Kozak, NYRA Vice President of Facilities and Racing Surfaces, oversaw the project, which involved roughly a dozen full-time NYRA employees as well as contractors specializing in irrigation, grading and other trades. The project began in May shortly after the conclusion of the Aqueduct winter/spring meet with the removal of both the old clay-based main track, traditionally used during the fall and spring meets, and the limestone-based inner track, installed in 1975 to accommodate winter racing.

Completed in mid-September, the resurfaced 1 1/8-mile main track is comprised of more than 18,000 tons of additional limestone dust for its base and new cushion material for a composition similar to that of the year-round training track at Belmont Park, which was renovated in the summer of 2016. The main track also features an expanded drainage system and has been outfitted with a new safety rail, the first of its kind to be used for live racing at a NYRA racetrack.

The new one-mile outer turf course includes a new drainage sand base, 115 new sprinkler heads and 698,400 square feet of Kentucky bluegrass sod. In order to meet the needs of two turf courses, a state-of-the-art irrigation system has been installed with computerized zone control for improved water efficiency along with an expanded infield pond for enhanced capacity.

“This is definitely the biggest project we’ve undertaken at NYRA and we’re very happy with what our crew was able to accomplish in four months,” Kozak said. “Working with 150,000-plus yards of material, moving it, storing it, and then scheduling everything that had to be done was probably the biggest challenge, and we were able to do it with a staff that was predominantly NYRA.

“We were able to have our own quality control through every part of the process and the crew went above and beyond what was required to get this completed.”

The mile chute on the main track, the final staging area for the new material, was the last area to have cushion laid down and is still in the rolling process before its planned opening the first full week of October, which will likely correlate with the beginning of gate works.

Kozak said minor work remains, specifically installation of the inner turf rail and the reconnection of the tracks’ teletimers. Turf works on the new surface will likely commence in mid-October, he said.

Dr. Mick Peterson, Executive Director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, and his team have been involved throughout the process. They conducted a battery of tests including material sampling, grading measurements, ground-penetrating radar and biomechanical surface testing, and will perform testing again before the Aqueduct meet begins.

“The key for us is that we’ve been involved from the very beginning, from the material and design and everything after that,” Peterson said. “The significance of that is so that when we go back after it has been in use, we can make sure that we’re meeting the original specifications and the original design concepts and we already have that baseline information.

“We’ve been able to inspect the surfaces through every step of the process. And just last week, we finished the last testing using the biomechanical surface tester to replicate the load of the hoof to make sure that we had consistency around the track.”

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said he believes the more horses than train on the renovated dirt track, which is designed to handle winter racing, will “get better and better. It’s got break in. Everything is so new, so you’ve got maintenance working all the time and they’re doing a good job.”

“Frankly, I was very pleased with it,” trainer Linda Rice said. “It’s a little fast right now but it’s in good condition. I’d rather have a fast track than one that’s deep and cuppy.”

The consolidation of dirt racing to a single year-round surface will allow the racing office to card races at consistent distances throughout the year, said NYRA Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza. A second turf course will allow for a variety of distances and help NYRA meet “high demand” for grass racing, he said.

(Aqueduct photo by Coglianese Photos courtesy of NYRA)