Dirt is Back at Keeneland's Track

GRW served as the project engineer for the track renovation project, which included developing the unique drainage system, designed to collect and discharge water consistently away from the track.

Keeneland, a Thoroughbred horse racing facility and auction company located in Lexington, KY, opened its new dirt racing surface for training on August 28, 2014. The extensive renovation project, which began May 19, 2014, with the removal of 16,000 tons of Polytrack surface, followed a yearlong planning and research period. In contrast, construction was required to be completed in three months, starting after the Kentucky Derby and ending before the training period leading up to the fall meet in October.

GRW served as the project engineer for the track renovation project and was involved in all aspects of the work including selection of track material, design of the test plot, engineering of the track section, and development of the unique drainage system. 

The dirt surface is composed of a mixture of sand, silt, and clay carefully selected for properties to include durability, firmness, and ability to retain sufficient moisture for the best racing surface possible. The track will be maintained with state-of-the-art equipment using GPS technology to maintain a consistent track surface.

Almost 2,000 truckloads of material were delivered to build the track including 26,000 tons of Class I sand to build the new track section and 19,000 tons of the final dirt surface.

Drainage on a dirt surface is critical and required a complete reconfiguration of the track section. Some details are described below and shown in the image above (larger view).

  • The straights on the Polytrack were constructed level due to the vertical drainage system. A 2% cross-slope had to be reintroduced in the track to allow for surface drainage on the new surface.
  • Rather than completely reconstructing the outside rail, a crown or high point has been introduced in the track using Class I sand to provide a 2% slope to the inside rail from 55 feet out with the remaining 20 feet draining to the outside rail. This approach took advantage of the subdrains under the track to drain water from the outside rail back to the inside rail, where a storm sewer system had been installed for the Polytrack.
  • The inside rail is drained with a unique system using plastic drain cells filled with pea gravel and a porous pavement shoulder made from recycled tires which takes water off the track into the subdrains. This system helps to mitigate the loss of surface material that occurs on most dirt tracks.

According to Keeneland news reports, the previously installed Polytrack surface had “proved safe but the year-long planning and research showed that proper maintenance of the surface is just as important as the selection of materials from a safety and consistency perspective.” Further, Keeneland noted, “Owners and trainers, especially those who compete at the highest levels of the sport, overwhelmingly prefer dirt tracks. In keeping with our mission and the quality that is expected of Keeneland, we have to be more competitive in attracting the top horses and Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup contenders and in hosting major racing events.” Triple Crown races and the Breeder’s Cup are run on dirt surfaces. 

GRW has worked for more than 50 years with Keeneland -- and other equine industry clients -- on a wide range of improvements from the racing track and barns to the new entrance and access road at U.S. 60 and Man-O-War Boulevard. Keeneland’s popular fall and spring race meets attract large crowds of local residents and visitors from around the nation and abroad.