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"Racing on dirt?" Topic

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AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2017 7:10 a.m. PST

Just watched the Belmont Stakes. I've always been curious as to why many of the US races are run on dirt. Is it just tradition? Even then, why were the tracks dirt, rather than grass in the first place? They don't seem to have trouble growing grass anywhere but on the track. In Australia, you have to go pretty far into the sticks before you'll find a sand or dirt track. My local track (Flemington, home of the Melbourne Cup) was established in 1840 and it's grass. I'm guessing that most of the US tracks are unlikely to be much older.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2017 7:26 a.m. PST

The first horse race track in what became the United
States was established in 1665 in what is now Hempstead,
Long Island, state of New York.

Originally called Newmarket, it was established in an
area called Salisbury Plains, now Hempstead Plains.

As far as why dirt and not grass, I don't know. I
participated in equine sports for years (cross-country,
stadium jumping and dressage) but never involved in

raylev311 Jun 2017 8:00 a.m. PST

racing horses tear up grass pretty darn quick…would be almost impossible to maintain. I would be curious as to how many horses, and how often they run on the tracks you mention, and how they maintain them.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Jun 2017 8:01 a.m. PST

Most horse tracks outside the US are grass though. So they have solved the maintenance problem apparently.

zoneofcontrol11 Jun 2017 8:34 a.m. PST

A quick goo gle led me to this wiki listing that explains the different surface types result in a different style of race.

Grass is most popular in Europe. Races end in a sprint finish.

Dirt is most popular in the USA and gives a faster over all race.


AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2017 1:04 p.m. PST

Raylev3, in Cup Week (at the start of November), they race on the grass at Flemington four times in eight days. The inside running rail is moved on some days to provide fresh ground on the inside.

When I've watched dirt racing, the thing that I notice is the amount of kickback, especially if it is wet. I'm guessing that it is usually a big advantage to be in front or close to the front. I'm prepared to accept, however, that dirt would provide for more predictable racing, as there can be real issues with inconsistency across turf surfaces.

Lazyworker11 Jun 2017 1:12 p.m. PST

Just a guess, but wouldn't a dirt track be easier and cheaper to maintain?

Zephyr111 Jun 2017 2:20 p.m. PST

Add some rain, and it becomes mud… ;-)

Major Mike11 Jun 2017 3:58 p.m. PST

Last track I went to was Arapahoe Park outside of Denver. 9 races a day 3 days a week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) from May 19th thru August 13th. It's all on dirt as I would expect grass would just wear out and it's easiler to drag the dirt to make things nice.

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP11 Jun 2017 3:59 p.m. PST

Over here, there are plenty of country race tracks with meetings twice a year that are turf, so I'm guessing that maintenance cost isn't the big issue. In any event, don't some of the US tracks have both dirt and turf courses?

Private Matter11 Jun 2017 5:29 p.m. PST

As the only member of my family that doesn't earn my living in the horse industry this has been discussed many times in my family. American horse racing went down a different track (pun intended) than our European cousins. While gentlemanly classes enjoyed it in the east. In the south and west it was a sport for farmers and country types who generally only gathered together for holidays and harvest time. Since these meets were not run on grazing land but rather farm fields that had been harvested or country roads the horses ran on dirt. When formal tracks were established, often times for county fairs, they continued on dirt. On the older more historic tracks you can still find turf and many races are still run on turf. Belmont and Churchill Downs both have turf tracks that run inside the dirt tracks.

Also, American tracks will generally run a number of races on race day and ap have races on multiple days in a week during the season and dirt can be raked faster than turf can be reset. Another point is that turf courses in the USA are generally sorter than the dirt tracks.

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2017 2:31 a.m. PST

Thanks Private Matter. In Oz, the government generally provided the land, whether by grant or long term lease at a peppercorn rent, to not for profit groups.So the racing clubs presumably had the space and incentive to build more permanent facilities. We also had private, for profit, racecourses, but they are now long gone.

korsun0 Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2017 3:02 a.m. PST

Pretty far into the sticks???? Harrumph….Darwin has a dirt track and is a capital city……:)

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2017 3:41 a.m. PST

In Britain there are about ten thousand races per year, spread over fifty-nine licenced courses. These are grass, in a notoriously rainy country. They have obviously sorted any maintenance issues!

Volleyfire12 Jun 2017 6:36 a.m. PST

And to add to Cerdic's post we have meetings such as Cheltenham Festival (4 consecutive days run in March), York Ebor meeting, Aintree Grand National meeting, Epsom Derby meeting and Royal Ascot where there is racing over several consecutive days without any trouble, both on the flat and over hurdles or steepchase fences. The only dirt tracks have been added in comparatively recent times as all weather tracks, Lingfield, Kempton, Wolverhampton and Southwell being the only ones.

Heisler12 Jun 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

The oldest horse race course in the US is Saratoga dating back to 1863.

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2017 12:47 p.m. PST

I would guess that the grass/dirt difference is due to cultural rather than practical reasons.

Horse racing in Britain originated with races across fields and hedges, from one village to the next, using church steeples as aiming points. We still have races called steeplechases today.

Perhaps the early history of horse racing in America used dirt roads? When permanent courses were built they naturally used a similar surface?

Just a thought….

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2017 12:54 p.m. PST

Oh. I've just read Private Matter's post properly! Happily it supports my theory! I can now be unbearably smug all evening!

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP12 Jun 2017 4:48 p.m. PST

korsun0, I'm not sure that you can see the woods for the sticks.

Private Matter19 Jun 2017 7:45 a.m. PST

For the matter of number of races in the USA; in 2016 there were over 37,000 thoroughbred sanctioned races run. This is a decline over previous years. This number does not include Quarter Horse races, endurance races, nor Arabian Horse races. The average purse for those races was only $28,000 USD which is divided amoung the top 3 or 4 horses depending upon the race. I wonder what the average purse in the UK works out to be?

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2017 6:50 p.m. PST

I understand that the prize money in the UK is notoriously poor. Looking in today's newspaper, the lowest prize money at a country race meeting here in Victoria is $16 USDk and most of the races are worth $20 USDk. Saturday racing in Melbourne and Sydney, almost all races are worth at least $80 USD – $100 USDk, with feature races worth a lot more than that (up to $6 USDm for the Melbourne Cup). So maybe the prize money in Oz is better than the US. Kind of odd given the vast disparity in population.

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP19 Jun 2017 10:03 p.m. PST

Not sure how my references to dollars got transformed to US dollars and each one got ".00" added to it. I was talking about thousands and millions.

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