Horse Racing Tracks

Tracks play a big part in the success of a horse race. This is because each surface can affect the pace and effort required from the racehorses. In fact, many horses will develop a record of performance which reflects their preference for track conditions.

The three major types of racing tracks are turf, dirt and synthetic tracks. Turf tracks are the most common track surface in European races, while dirt tracks are the most common track surface in the United States.

Whether its turf, dirt, or synthetic, each horse is suited to a different type of surface. But some great horses do excel on any surface. Secretariat and John Henry won on both turf and dirt tracks. So if you are betting on a really dynamic horse, you've got a good chance of winning no matter what the racing track is.

You don’t really need to be an expert in racetracks if you want to enjoy betting on the ponies. You can always make some Win bets or Place wagers and watch how the race unfolds and collect your winnings afterwards. But if you want to make more complicated bets (exotic bets like trifectas and perfectas), then some knowledge in track surfaces will help you evaluate races.

So let us look at the characteristics of these different kinds of racing tracks.

Dirt Horse Race Tracks

Dirt track racing is the traditional North American racing surface. While there are, of course, a number of other racing events that are run on turf and synthetic tracks in Canada and the US. But the most prestigious ones, including the Triple Crown series, are run on dirt racetracks.

Each dirt racetrack is unique, however. There are subtle differences among dirt surfaces – some may be harder, some are deeper, some have more sand, and some drain more quickly than others.

Dirt tracks are also popular in Japan, where the descendants of Sunday Silence (a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner) continue to thrive on this preferred surface.

Categories of Dirt Race Tracks

As mentioned above, dirt horse race tracks are individually unique. These tracks fall into several categories, which are described below.

FastPacked tight for premium conditions. This is usually where track records are broken.
Wet-FastFor running fast, but hard surface has thin layer of water.
GoodDirt is drying out, and can possibly slow the horses down.
MuddySurface is muddy due to rain and wet conditions.
SloppyVery wet track, water has pooled up on the track.
FrozenVery hard surface in which the wet track has frozen.
SlowDirt is deep and drying out.
HeavyDirt is very deep and dry, producing very slow times.

Turf Race Horse Tracks

For the past few centuries, horse racing evolved from racing on grass, or turf. The famous Thoroughbred breed was developed in England in the 17th and 18th centuries to compete on this specific surface. And until today, Thoroughbreds still do run on turf tracks.

At present, there are more top-class European horses that are bred to run on grass (at least compared to their North American counterparts). So if you want to bet on European horses, you might have the best luck on turf tracks.

France’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Australia’s Melbourne Cup, and England’s Epsom Derby are all run over grass. In the US, Chicago’s Arlington Million is another example.

Categories of Turf Race Tracks

Turf tracks can be categorised by certain characteristics. These categories are listed below.

FirmTurf is a dry and firm surface, and good for running fast.
GoodSlightly firm with slight moisture.
SoftTurf contains some moisture.
YieldingDeep, wet turf where runs are slow.
HeavyVery wet, deep turf which produces the slowest runs.

Synthetic Horse Race Tracks

The word “synthetic” is a collective term used to refer to a variety of man-made surfaces. A synthetic racetrack surface is any kind of surface that is used to replace grass, dirt or sand tracks.

Synthetic tracks (also called “all-weather” tracks) have long been used in Europe for training purposes. These tracks are designed to perform like dirt tracks, and are usually comprised of combinations of wax, rubber, sand and synthetic fibres.

Synthetic tracks are made through a specific layering. Synthetic tracks are designed differently, but generally follow the same pattern.

  • Layer 1 – A perforated drainage pipe which sits in a trench that runs the length of the track.
  • Layer 2 – Layers of clean gravel and crushed rock.
  • Layer 3 – Gravel bonded with tar or asphalt. This material is porous enough to let water through.
  • Layer 4 – The top layer is made of sand, recycled rubber, and synthetic fibres that are usually coated in wax to ensure that water flows through the layers below.

Synthetic tracks have a clear advantage when it comes to drainage. Since water is drained vertically downward from the top layer, sloppy conditions are avoided and the track can remain open for a scheduled race.

History of Synthetic Tracks

The very first synthetic track used for Thoroughbred racing was not made to replace dirt, but made to replace grass. This was the Tropical Park's Tartan turf, which was installed in 1966. But this turf was never a success with horsemen. Since then, there has been no known synthetic turf track surface put into use at an official racing track.

The first synthetic surface created to replace a dirt track was installed at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, back in 1988. This synthetic surface was called Equitrack. It was, however, found to be unsatisfactory. It was eventually removed and replaced with a traditional dirt surface in 1991 after a series of maintenance difficulties and complaints from horsemen.

Since then, there have been several kinds of synthetic surfaces that have been made for horse racing. There is an ongoing debate on whether or not synthetic surfaces reduce or increase injuries for horses and jockeys. But so far, there are no conclusive results that states a good dirt surface is any more dangerous than a good synthetic surface. The only sure thing about the issue is that some horses clearly excel on dirt surfaces, while there are those that excel on synthetic ones.

Types of Synthetic Horse Race Tracks

Today, synthetic horse race tracks are manufactured by various companies in different areas of the globe. The aim is to create a track that feels most natural for the horses, but also practical enough to withstand unpredictable weather conditions.


The Polytrack is an all-weather track that was invented by Englishman Martin Collins. Polytrack is a recent surface innovation that consists of silica sand, recycled synthetic fibres (carpet & spandex), and recycled rubber coated in microcrystalline wax. In colder climates, the mixture may also include jelly cable (a plastic insulation from copper phone wire). It has the texture of natural dirt, but is generally lighter in colour.

The Polytrack material makes up approximately the top six inches of the racing surface. It requires an extensive drainage system before it is applied.

Polytrack has been installed in several racetracks, including:

  • Arlington Park (USA)
  • Del Mar Racetrack (USA)
  • Keeneland Race Course (USA)
  • Turfway Park (USA)
  • Woodbine Racetrack (Canada)
  • Kempton Park Racecourse (UK)
  • Lingfield Park Racecourse (UK)
  • Wolverhampton Racecourse (UK)
  • Great Leighs Racecourse (UK)
  • Dundalk Stadium (Ireland)
  • Marseille (France)
  • Cagnes Sur Mer (France)
  • Istanbul (Turkey)
  • Kranji (Singapore)

Cushion Track

Cushion Track is manufactured by Equestrian Surfaces. It is made up of sand, synthetic fibers, elastic fiber, and granulated rubber coated with wax. Santa Anita Park and Hollywood Park in the US used to have this kind of track, but the former was removed and the latter was shut down.

At present, the cushion track is installed at:

  • Courbold Park (Australia)
  • Toowoomba (Australia)
  • Klampenborg (Denmark)
  • Taby Galopp (Sweden)

Pro-Ride Synthetic Track

Pro-Ride is a synthetic surface created by Pro-Ride Racing Australia Pty Ltd. It is a track made of two levels. The first is a 6-inch deep material, consisting of sand, nylon fibres, spandex fibres coated in a polymeric binder. The second is a 4-inch IMC layer of sand and nylon fibres.

The Pro-Ride track surface is currently installed at:

  • Flemington Racecourse (Australia)
  • Rosehill Racecourse (Australia)
  • Warwick Farm Racecourse (Australia)

Tapeta Footings

Tapeta is manufactured by Michael Dickinson, Inc. It is made up of a layer of sand, fibre, rubber and wax, which is then installed on top of either porous asphalt or a geotextile membrane.

Michael Dickinson is famous for his extraordinary feat of training, particularly during the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Dickinson trained the glorious horses Bregawn, Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck, and Ashley House – popularly referred to as “Dickinson's Famous Five”. He has a total of five world records noted in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Since 2007, he has stopped training and devoted his time to his business of synthetic racetrack surfacing.

Tapeta surfaces are installed at:

  • Golden Gate Fields (USA)
  • Presque Isle Downs (USA)
  • Woodbine Racetrack (Canada)
  • Wolverhampton Racecourse (UK)
  • Newcastle Racecourse (UK)
  • Meydan Racecourse (UAE)
  • Al Quoz (UAE)

So the next time you are going to place a wager, think about your favoured horse and the track he's going to race on. You might just get some insight on how your horse will perform, knowing that he could be racing on a dirt, turf or synthetic track.