Understanding the three main types of horse racing track surfaces and how different tracks affect the performance of horses can be daunting to new bettors. And the fact that even trainers differ in their opinions about especially synthetic tracks often leads to information overload.
But since the best approach to any sticky situation is to “keep it simple”, this will be our approach too. Herewith then, a simple explanation of the different types of track surfaces, and how each type affects the performance of the equines who battle it out for that perfect finish.
Dirt is the most common variety of track found in U.S. horse racing. The fact that dirt is more affordable to maintain than grass makes it an ideal and cost-saving surface. But money-matters aside, dirt also happens to be particularly suitable for Thoroughbred horse racing.
The down-side is that no natural surface really provides the ideal amount of shock absorption. And when comparing dirt to grass, dirt is the worst type of shock-absorber there is.
The heavy impact caused by hooves pounding down on compacted earth often leads to injuries. This is why its important to be very sure that the horse of your choosing is capable of running a pretty quick race. Since dirt is particularly suitable to getting out of the gates and off to a quick start, this is pretty much the style of race to expect when horses are running on a dirt track.
Running on Turf
Turf racing, which is more popular in Europe than running on a dirt track, is the one surface most affected by weather conditions. Weather can run amok with a track made of turf, which makes it important to remain aware of changing weather conditions.
Long-time racing turf horses will often get into the habit of preferring a particular “condition” when running on grass. Some horses may prefer firm over yielding grass, while others may perform better on a style and density somewhere in the middle.
Horses typically run somewhat slower on turf than what they do on dirt, and so this is a deciding factor that must be kept in mind with turf-racing too when making bets.
Synthetic Types of Surfaces
Synthetic surfaces are preferred by some trainers and bettors but absolutely avoided by some others.
Believed to significantly reduce the risk of injuries to horses and horse-riders, there exist three types of synthetic surfaces: tapeta, cushion, and polytrack.
Tapeta is a mix of sand and rubber fibre covered with a durable wax. Tapeta is installed several inches deep, and on top of a layer of asphalt.
Cushion, a mixture of sand and elastic synthetic fibre covered with wax, is layered in a way that the eventual footing is 7 inches deep. The layering is covered with a geo-textile covering.
Last up is Polytrack, which is by far the most popular type of synthetic track. Thought to be not only horse-racing-friendly but also especially kind to the environment, Polytrack consists of silica sand combined with fibres that are constructed out of a mixture of recycled carpet, rubber, and spandex.