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Tuesday 20 August 2019

All-Weather Courses - Fibresand, Polytrack & Tapeta

All-weather horse racing or, in other words, horse racing on synthetic surfaces, has been a fact of life in Britain since 1989. The pioneering racecourse was Lingfield Park, which raced for the first time on Equitrack – silica sand, oil and a chemical binder mixed together to form a very firm, hard surface – in October that year. Fast forward nearly three decades and the all-weather programme has expanded to six racecourses. Three of them, namely Chelmsford City, Kempton Park and Lingfield Park, race on Polytrack, Southwell, alone, races on Fibresand and the remaining two, Newcastle and Wolverhampton, race on Tapeta.


Fibresand is the oldest of the synthetic surfaces still used in Britain, having been raced on at Southwell since nine days after the opening of the Equitrack course at Lingfield. Like Polytrack and Tapeta, Fibresand is based on silica sand, reinforced with polypropylene fibres but, unlike its competitors, contains no wax or chemical binder. The firmness of the surface can be adjusted by maintenance procedures, such as rolling or harrowing, but Fibresand is typically deeper, and looser, than Polytrack. Consequently, the surface places more emphasis on stamina, resulting in slower race times, wider margins between horses and less trouble in running.


Polytrack, too, is a mixture of silica sand and polypropylene fibres, together with recycled rubber, coated with wax. Appropriately weighed and blended, Polytrack creates a racing surface renowned for its uniformity and longevity. The brainchild of farmer and builder Martin Collins, Polytrack first rose to prominence as a surface for training gallops, such as that installed for Richard Hannon Snr. in 1987, but was not used as a racing surface until 2001. That year it become the surface of choice at Lingfield Park and Wolverhampton replaced both its Fibresand and turf courses with a single Polytrack course three years later.


Tapeta was designed and developed by Michael Dickinson – the same Michael Dickinson who saddled the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1983 – and was first laid at his Tapeta Farm training centre in Maryland, USA in 1997. Essentially an improved version of Polytrack, Tapeta has the same basic composition, but mimics the root structure of turf. Like Fibresand, the firmness of the surface can be dictated by the Clerk of the Course and, again like Fibresand, Tapeta sheds water extremely well. Tapeta replaced Polytrack as the surface of choice at Wolverhampton in 2014 and replaced the turf course at Newcastle as part of a £12 million redevelopment of the racecourse in 2016.