Prominent Trainers Offer Insight into New All-Weather Surface
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – With the onset of year-round racing at Gulfstream Park this year due to the closure of Gulfstream Park West, a Tapeta track has been constructed to provide a measure of relief to the turf course while offering a varied racing program for horses of all abilities – and Graham Motion and Michael Stidham are hardly complaining.
The pair of highly respected trainers have enjoyed significant success while training and racing horses on all-weather surfaces, as well as on dirt and turf.
“I applaud Gulfstream for making that move. I’m a little surprised that more tracks haven’t done it to have an alternative track, whether it be an alternative surface to run on or an alternative surface to run on when the races come off the turf,” said Motion, whose stable is based at Fair Hill, the Elkton, MD training center, where a Tapeta surface is available for training year round. “I think it makes so much sense, and I’m excited that Gulfstream has gone forward with this.”
Stidham, who also trains at Fair Hill during the good-weather months, has applied for stalls for Gulfstream’s upcoming Championship Meet for the first time.
“I’ve always been a trainer who likes the synthetic. I trained at Arlington over 20 years, and we loved training on the synthetic. We’re at Fair Hill in the summer, and we have a Tapeta track there,” Stidham said. “We like it, and we think it’s a good addition.”
Gulfstream Park is on the verge of making Thoroughbred racing history – scheduled to become the first racetrack to conduct racing on dirt, turf and all-weather surfaces when the first races are run over the Tapeta track Thursday, opening day of the Fall Meet.
One of Stidham’s most memorable successes on an all-weather track came in a maiden special weight race at Arlington on Sept. 18, 2010.
“A million-dollar earner that I had, Willcox Inn, broke his maiden on it, and he went on to be a graded-stakes winner. I’ll never forget that his first start was at Arlington against another first-time starter, Animal Kingdom. Willcox Inn and Animal Kingdom both made their first starts in the same race at Arlington,” said Stidham, whose multiple graded-stakes winning son of Harlan’s Holiday prevailed by 2 ¾ lengths over Animal Kingdom, who rallied after being caught in traffic. “It was kind of interesting to see both those horses go on to be top horses.”
The Motion-trained Animal Kingdom, of course, went on to win the 2011 Kentucky Derby (G1) after qualifying with a victory in the Spiral (G2) over Turfway’s all-weather surface. The son of Leroidesanimaux also went on to win the 2013 Dubai World Cup (G1) after prepping with a second-place finish behind Point of Entry in the Gulfstream Park Turf (G2).
“I think he was a brilliant horse who’s an exception to all the rules. I think it’s fair to say he was a brilliant horse – he won the two biggest races in the world – the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby,” Motion said. “When you have horses of that caliber, they usually handle what you throw at them. He was an exceptional horse. The chances of me having another one like him in my lifetime are very unlikely.”
Motion said he expects lower-level horse to benefit most from the addition of a Tapeta surface to Gulfstream’s racing menu.
“I think at the high level, I think it’s harder to find horses that are as good on each surface. I think at the lower level, I think it’s easier to move them between surfaces. It gives people with lesser horses another option,” Motion said. “It also doesn’t beat up on the turf course so much. Hopefully, it protects the turf course and gives another option with some of the lesser horses that don’t get the option to run on the grass normally.”
Although horses have been successful going from dirt to Tapeta and vice versa, Stidham and Motion agree that turf horses seem to be more comfortable running on the all-weather surface.
“It’s not a fast and true guarantee, but it’s a step toward getting the same feel they get on the turf. It’s a more consistent feel and footing for a horse than the dirt, where they hit the dirt and it kind of gives away,” Stidham said. “Synthetic is obviously more like turf. It’s similar but not the same.”
Upperline, a multiple graded-stakes winner on turf who also won over the all-weather surfaces at Keeneland, Arlington and Woodbine; and Tizaqueena, a graded-stakes winner and multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed on turf who also won a graded stakes on Arlington’s all-weather track; both showed versatility on both surfaces for Stidham during the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Training on Tapeta is essential in determining how comfortable a horse is on the new surface.
“I don’t think it’s good for every horse. It’s just like any surface – it’s a trial-and-error thing where you work a horse on it and see how they handle it and see how they come out of it,” Stidham said. “That tells you how much they like it or don’t like it. It’s not for every horse.”
Motion routinely trains turf horses on a synthetic surface.
“I think most turf horses handle the transition to synthetic,” Motion said. “When I breeze horses at Fair Hill, I tend to breeze them on synthetic. They’re just much more comfortable on it.”
Gulfstream Park Press Release
Photo: Tapeta first breeze, (Ryan Thompson)