a Training Track
site selection, and maintenance
Q. Murphy (reprinted with permission from Thoroughbred Times)
are key considerations
do not set out to train very many horses on the farm. Perhaps in
the beginning the game plan might have been drawn to include the
retention of a couple of fillies each year, who if they proved to
have some ability, might serve as replacement mares after their
racing careers were over.
these conditions, breaking and early slow miles would be possible
on the farm, if there was a large enough level field, and the farm
had the personnel, expertise, time, and will to begin the youngsters
on the farm. The alternative of course is to send the hose to have
its initial training be done by someone who specializes in getting
young stock ready for the track. Although this is not as expensive
as having a horse in training on the track, it still can typically
run $25-$30 a day. In addition, many owners who have the expertise
find some satisfaction in starting their babies on the farm, where
they can more closely monitor their progress and instill the basics
that they have found important over time.
in the last several years, many breeders have found themselves with
more horses to put to put into training than they originally planned
on. While the current downward shifts in stud fees and breeder realities
have reduced somewhat the gap between what the owner thinks a horse
needs to bring at auction and what it does bring at auction, more
owners than ever have found themselves with horses to train in the
fall. While some are still going to end up in the breeder's stable,
the expense of having many horses in training is beyond what many
owners can afford. Not wanting to take a bath in the September sale,
the owner has opted to either attempt to sell in the two-year-old
in training sales, or privately on track. But as expenses mount
on the racetrack, and the number of horses being broken and conditioned
rises, at some point the owner with some spare acreage and cash
is likely to ask the immortal question, "I wonder what it would
cost to put in a training track?"
Greene of Lexington-based Horseman's Track and Equipment, Inc.
knows the answer. For years, Greene and his company have been acting
in a unique capacity as racetrack consultants who can advise from
the initial planning stages through contractor selection and construction
supervision to the sale of maintenance equipment and the safety
rail. So how much will it cost? "That's like asking how much will
a car cost," answers Greene . "It all depends on a combination of
factors. Very important is what the planned use of the facility
will be if an owner comes in and says, 'Well right now I'm breaking
for four or five out in the field every year,' I'll probably recommend
against building a track. The use at that level would never justify
the expense. But I've had another client who was sending 45-to-60
babies to South Carolina every year, in the addition to significant
numbers of lay ups cycling off the track each year. With him, the
savings the first year after paying for the track amounted to something
like $400,000. His response was, 'When can you get started?'"
size of the track obviously plays a significant part in determining
the eventual expense of the facility. Although many private facilities
are half-mile ovals, Greene agrees with those that such "bullrings"
are not desirable.
is the minimum I like to recommend," he said. "It's like day and
night compared to the half-mile tracks, you can't get big enough
turns. If all you are doing is legging a horse up, they might be
adequate, but to ship and run, for instance, I would not suggest
breezing horses around less than a 275-foot radius, which is not
possible on a half-mile track unless you sacrifice so much of the
straightaways that it practically becomes a circular rather than
oval track. With five-eighths of a mile, you have a 300-foot radius
on the turns and you do more with the horses safely from a design
standpoint than on a half-mile."
Is bigger better then?
with a mile you can't do much more than on a five-eighths surface.
Our most popular size has been six furlongs-that takes about 32
acres of ground in a rectangular-shaped plot of ground. What we've
learned from the do-it yourself types in the horse business is that
the time to do it right is the first time. You can't enlarge these
facilities after the fact without tremendous expense, so the initial
planning is crucial to continued success and safety for the horses
a track size has been arrived at, it is time to look at the site
the owner has for the facility. Such an examination for site suitability
has two main criteria. First is the actual lay of the land. While
the owner may have some land selected for whatever reason, it may
require an inordinate amount of expense to prepare for a track.
we would recommend people to find another site if they would need,
say, too much area to fill," Greene said. "You could pay more per
acre for land, and it would cost less than 300,000 yards of fill."
prospective site would also have core samples taken at regular spacings
in order to locate such factors as rock formations and depth, underground
water souces, and the like.
would have the survey map drawn, basically a contour map showing
the site's elevations on 12 spacings, said Greene . "We would then
accurately detail what size of track would fit on the site, as well
as see where the sun would set, the best location for the horses,
underground water, etc. Again the time to do this is before the
first piece of heavy equipment arrives. Preparations and planning
are the keys to cost control and eventual success."
the site has been selected and the preliminary soil tests are completed,
construction can begin. It can begin, that is, if the weather is
right. "Weather plays a significant factor in track construction,"
Greene says, "because each layer of the base has to be compared
to a specified figure. And if the soil is too wet, it will later
shrink as it dries. And if it's too dry, the material will just
not compact at all and turn to dust as you attempt to work it."
As a result, most track work in the Kentucky area, for example,
is done from March to mid-November.
even if the weather is right, there is more involved in track construction
than just bulldozing an oval strip in a field and filling it with
sandy loam. "A lot of people think that you can go in there, run
a grader around, throw some rock down, and throw some sand on top,"
says Greene. "That's not how you build a track."
climate of the area also determines what type of base the track
should use. The two major alternatives are clay and limestone rock
of various diminsions. Each type of base has its particular characteristics.
Greene explains, "It takes a lot more water for a limestone-based
racetrack than it does a clay-based racetrack, because it drains.
The clay will hold some moisture. You have to look at where the
racetrack is wanted, look at their almanac, see what their average
rainfall is, and how much temperature variance there is over the
year. We have to see where the freeze line is. We prefer to put
a dense-grade, stone-based racetrack down in the North, because
the freezing and thawing can make the clay move around over the
winter if it's in the North. Kentucky is really kind of the dividing
line. Everything south of here we could go with a clay base and
anything north of here we recommend putting a stone base in."
once a material is selected there is still consideration given to
the suitability of the material locally available.
are a lot of variables when we get in a project. Some people say
they want to use a certain material from the farm on their racetracks.
'I want to use this clay and this sand,' and I tell them I'll be
glad to test it and see if it's acceptable because I like to think
that any racetrack I do, I would like to have my horses there. They
don't understand that there are significant differences in the suitability
of the materials used. To me, the time to get it right is the first
time, and through our experience and what we have learned from others,
we have a good idea what works and what doesn't.
If a client tells us they want to use their clay, I will point out
that it is gumbo clay and not adequate for the task. The first time
a horse steps in, he's going to break his leg, his cannon bone,
or knee. The first time it rains, he's going to go through there
and it can't support the cushion. The material just falls to pieces.
There's a lot of variation just in the clay itself."
as the base is being prepared, it is more complicated than just
laying the material to the right depth as specified in the designer's
plans. "We act either as the contractor or as the contracting supervisor
on these projects," says Greene, "and we test the compaction of
the base as it's being installed, one foot of fill at a time. Basically
we are looking for 95% modified compaction as measured on the Proctor
scale, which is the standard measurement for foundations or roadways.
Now you can pile the base in, roll the top to 95%, and think you
did the job, but sooner or later the track will just fall apart.
So we test each foot of fill as it is installed and at regular intervals
in all directions. We use two methods of figuring the compaction,
which serves as an internal check. And if we find a problem we can
eliminate it before the next layer is put down."
into or just above the clay or limestone base is a perforated drainage
tile. As Greene explains, "The tile goes all the way around the
inside of the racetrack. Every 50 feet, we'll T-off at that with
a straight PVC pipe to the ditch line. The water is going to have
a place to get off every 50 feet. It won't go down the track. It
will drain evenly all the way around. It is expensive. It also drains
your base. This will prevent the track from being washed out with
every heavy rain. It will still move some--they have to be maintained--but
good drainage is essential to a safe track design."
typical racetrack in the U.S. has a six inch subbase, a nine-inch
base, and three-inch cushion. But the type of sand used in the upper
layers of the track and how it is installed are again another detail
of great significance. As Greene explains, sand is not sand.
can put any two samples under a microscope and begin to see differences.
One sand may drain well, but it won't give; it doesn't have the
resiliency that horses need in a surface. They just hit dead on
it, it has no give. They won't bounce on it. The horses will run
through their bandages every day. Basically, an ideal surface is
75% round river sand, and such as the surface they have at Churchill
Downs. It is a fine sand and you can put it between your hands and
rub it and it doesn't scratch you.
you use a more angular sand, then you can imagine the horse's legs
on that. It will be a much more abrasive surface. You want 20% silt
and loam and 5% clay. You want a little clay with the silt and loam.
This allows you to roll the track and tighten it back up and get
your bounce. By having your clay there, you can also roll your racetrack
and seal it before a big rain. So the water will sheet off the top
and not sink in, which will significantly change the character of
the surface. As with the base, it is very important to maintain
even compaction as every layer is added to the surface and test
it throughout the construction.
provides the actual working surface that is visible to horse and
I like one-component tracks," Greene said "That is, say you have
your base and then your next ten inches is all the same. You put
it on two lifts--sifted and mixed--six inches at a time. It's going
to be compacted to five inches. You find 20% compaction and then
you do the same on the next layer. It gives you a safety layer in
between, where the horses hit the top and hit the bottom. This is
especially true on a limestone racetrack. You don't wnat to hit
the bottom. They can't get through it down to the bottom. It gives
you a protective layer if it's wet, for example. The first few rains
you get, you can redo the cushion because it's all the same. That's
the best way to it, especially on the farm tracks because they don't
have the maintenance crews, like the racetracks that have 15 people."
even Ellis Park putting in a turf course, the question arises, "What
about one on the farm?" Greene notes that while they look very nice
on the infield, they are not very practical for the owner. "I think
for a farm or a training center a turf course is a waste of money,
because you can't use them on a constant basis. Of course, when
it rains it gets a little dangerous and if you let it dry for two
days and put horses on it, they tear it up and it's a real maintenance
headache compared to the sand track. I don't think it's worth it."
all the best-intentioned preparation in the world does not ensure
continued success if the track is not adequately maintained. What
kind of life expectancy can one expect from a training track? "Well
it's like your automobile," Greene said. "If you run it hard and
never open the hood, you won't get the same mileage from a car as
you would have if you change the oil every 4,000 miles. You're going
to have to pull your rail because it's going to build up. It's going
to be deeper. With a racetrack you get out of it as much money as
you put in it--that's what you get back. There's no racetrack that's
maintenance-free or anything like that."
the key to a successful maintenance program is the trackman in charge
of it. "You have to to have a knowledable person, to take care of
the track daily," he said. "The track changes daily because of the
rain or the freezing. We have developed a basic maintenance guide
about what you should do and we try to get the people to hire someone
while we are there and say this is the kind of racetrack you are
going to have. If you'll keep this racetrack rolled and watered
at night if it's hot, this is what you can expect back from it.
If you don;t do it right, the track will get hard as a brick. This
is a daily maintenance program and one guy can do it. But it's a
prety good job for one guy. That's why we recommend that on a dirt
lot of people want to put in sprinkler systems. Well, what happens
is that whan the wind is blowing, part of the track gets all of
the water and some of track gets none of the water. So we have a
boom on a water wagon or water truck and we keep it 1 1/2 feet off
of the ground under pressure where it will pump and that way we
are sure that the whole racetrack is going to get watered. You may
not know it, but the ones that are going to know it are the horses
difficult is it to find the right personfor the maintenance? "Basically
if they can drive a tractor, we can teach them what to do."
Murphy, manager of Donerail Farm near Lexington, KY is a contributing
editor to Thoroughbred Times