Track Conditions and Surfaces

On any given day, the type and conditions of any race track surface can play a significant role in the outcome of any horse race. Over time, a race horse will establish a record of performance that sometimes will reflect a preference for certain track conditions. For example, the term “mudder” refers to a horse that seems to perform better in wet or muddy track conditions. On the other hand, horses that do not have a history of success on certain types of track conditions will often be scratched by their owners so as to save their energies (and reputations) for more favorable racing conditions.

From the very beginning of recorded horse racing, the track surface has been a major factor in how the race plays out. The type of track is important because, due to the large numbers of horse racing tracks, it has not been possible to fully enclose and weatherproof them.

Early examples of large scale horse outdoor racing venues include the Hippodrome of the Ancient Greeks, Rome’s Circus Maximus and the largest of all, the nearly 1,500 foot long Hippodrome of Constantinople, with grandstands that could hold 100,000 spectators. In modern times, one of the first racetracks in England was constructed at Epsom Downs, which was built by the Earl of Derby in 1780. In the United States, the Newmarket racetrack was constructed on New York’s Long Island in 1665.

The surfaces of today’s horse racing tracks vary considerably from state to state and by country to country. Some of the surfaces used for horse racing tracks may consist of turf, packed dirt or crushed limestone, any of which is susceptible to prevailing weather conditions.

A recent innovation in race track surfacing is known as Polytrack. This revolutionary material is light brown in color and consists of sand, synthetic fibers and recycled rubber coated with a specially designed microcrystalline wax. The surface of a Polytrack course is laid about 6 inches deep and requires that a complex drainage system be installed beneath it. The patented Polytrack surface boasts improved shock absorption and has proven itself to be a safer material for horses and jockeys when accidents occur. Unlike mud, Polytrack particles will not clump and adhere to horse hooves. Even wet weather does not appear to make much of a difference, as tracks employing the Polytrack system are always considered to be “fast”, even on rainy days.