The Hoarse Whisperer
by Jenny Ortuoste
for 30 March 2007, Friday, BusinessWorld
You’ve seen it on cable TV or even live – horses galloping around an oval track, their hooves kicking up sand, their manes and tails flying in the wind as they chase victory. Our attention is focused on the magnificent thoroughbreds flexing their muscles, while diminutive jockeys perched on top strain to guide these 1000-pound animals.
Have you ever noticed, though, what they are racing on? Track surfaces are usually taken for granted. But it’s the stage on which both equine and human actors perform to the best of their ability to bring sports fans the thrill and delight of racing.
Horseracing in the Philippines takes the form of “flat racing on dirt”, as opposed to, say, steeplechase racing (with hurdles) or turf (on grass). The dirt tracks of both San Lazaro Leisure Park (SLLP) in Cavite and Santa Ana Park (SAP) in Makati are composed of layers of sea sand, crushed stone, and other natural materials.
In Europe, woodchip courses are used for training and have gained popularity because of their all-weather features and superb cushioning effect. However, problems with drainage and slipperiness have been encountered. Some Japanese dirt courses have developed all-weather tracks wherein river or sea sand is used for the surface layer, with rubber chips close to the specific gravity of sand mixed into the cushion sand. The rubber chips improve the buffering performance and grip power.
The Belle Corporation-Raymund B. Puyat proposed new racetrack in Silang, Cavite, the Metropolitan Manila Turf Club (MMTC), is said to be featuring a synthetic surface called Poly-Track. This has been used around the world since the mid-1980s.
The first edition of synthetics was called Equitrack, designed from American dirt course materials such as oil sand (made by coating sand with oil or polymer) and artificial fibers. In the 1990s, these tracks disappeared as it was very difficult to maintain quality. The Poly-Track surface evolved later on, supplementing Equitrack’s weaknesses.
Poly-Track courses are made with silica sand, recycled materials, and fibers mixed with wax. These new tracks have terrific cushioning characteristics, grip power, and drainage performance. In Japan it has been adopted in training centers and training tracks at large private farms.
Poly-Track has been installed at Keeneland Racecourse and Turfway Park in Kentucky and at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, among others. Such tracks are regarded to be “fast” regardless of weather conditions. Horsemen in North America and the UK rave about Poly-Track’s high shock-absorption and low elasticity repulsion (kickback) rates.
However, since it is a new material, surveys are still being carried out in Japan concerning oil seepage, deterioration, and durability.
Sea sand is ideal since it is a natural material and supposedly plentiful locally. But both SLLP and SAP are finding it difficult to source sea sand nowadays, since the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has forbidden the large-scale quarrying of sand in an effort to protect our lovely beaches. So even if our country is an archipelago, surrounded by the vastness of the ocean, our coastlines covered with sand, it is a challenge for local raceclubs to obtain an essential component for racing.
Perhaps MMTC is making the right decision in installing a Poly-Track surface at their soon-to-be-built facility. Many horseowners, certainly, are receptive to the concept since such tracks are said to be safer for horses and contribute to the reduction of veterinary bills. ***