Racing enthusiasts already know that there are different types of racetracks for horses. But, if you’re new to the industry or just curious, you may wonder about these surfaces and what they mean for the horses’ performance. What are the different types of tracks, and what difference can that make each time a horse is entered in a race?
Dirt tracks are the most common in the U.S., while our U.K. racing counterparts prefer turf. All three jewels of the Triple Crown are run on dirt tracks:
- Churchill Downs in Kentucky
- Pimlico in Maryland
- Belmont Park in New York
Dirt tracks are the most impacted by weather, and the conditions of the track can change from race to race. Caretakers seal the track if it rains by compressing the top layer to encourage rain to run off the surface. A dry track is also called “Fast.” Depending on the conditions, they can also be described as good, sloppy, or muddy.
Turf or grass tracks are most popular in Europe, but they have also become a staple at U.S. racetracks. Many have been installed inside dirt tracks to offer a variety of races on any given day. Unlike dirt tracks, where early speed is the advantage, turf tracks favor horses who can sprint the last portion of the race.
Turf tracks are also dependent on weather conditions. Dry turf, like dry dirt, is the fastest track, but as rain soaks into the ground, a wet track can be downgraded to yielding or soft, affecting the horses’ performance.
If you watch other sports, like American Football or Soccer, you’re probably aware of synthetic fields. This trend has reached the sport of horseracing as well. In horseracing, we go as far as having different types of synthetic tracks, as well. This allows for maintenance under different weather conditions. Synthetic racetracks are a composite of sand, fiber, wax, and rubber. They are considered safer than dirt or turf tracks and are all-weather surfaces that don’t carry the same weather-related conditions as natural tracks.
Only a handful of tracks in North America are currently using synthetic surfaces.
Like any athlete, horses have preferences that extend to all aspects of racing. They have preferred distances, positions, and surfaces. Part of the job of our Ologists is to determine how each horse excels. This allows us to place horses, not only with the right trainer, but possibly at the right racetrack or region for them. For types of tracks, it isn’t just the surface itself but also the condition that will make a difference.
Training for Racetracks
horseOlogy is located at the Nelson Jones Training Center in Ocala, Florida. Our center has access to dirt and turf tracks during the breaking and training process. We take a hands-on and individualized approach with each horse to learn what they like, communicate what we expect, and ensure those strengths match for peak performance.