Training on Woodbine’s brand new Tapeta main track commenced on Friday morning with 17 horses recording timed workouts over the cushion installed following the 2015 meet.
“We’ve had great feedback this morning from horsepeople after our first full training session over the Tapeta,” said Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment Group. “It’s important for us to have a surface that will endure through hot and cold climates. We’re very much looking forward to opening day and unveiling the next generation of horse racing surfaces.”
Irwin Driedger, Woodbine’s Director of Thoroughbred Surfaces, oversaw the installation of the new synthetic main track, replacing the Polytrack surface which had been in place since August of 2006.
The installation started in November, at the conclusion of the 2015 meet, with the scraping of the former Polytrack cushion, before loading in more than 10,000 tonnes of Tapeta.
“It took about 600 truckloads of Tapeta. We had to level it off and make it nice and smooth and make sure we have the right amount of Tapeta in all the areas of the track,” said Driedger. “We’ve been working on it for the past two weeks to ensure that it is consistent. We’ve measured every ten feet with a prod, so we know we have the amount of material we’re supposed to have.”
Trainer John LeBlanc Jr., who gallops most of his own stock each morning, sent 12 horses out to train over the main track, on a crisp, but dry, morning.
“They’ve all taken to it really well. I’m very pleased with that,” said LeBlanc Jr. “There hasn’t been any kickback. Today was a good day for us to take our first time out over it. The temperature is just perfect. It’s not below freezing, the moisture is there and it’s tight. It was a great first day.”
Josie DePaulo, assistant and wife of trainer Mike DePaulo, took most of her barn to the new Woodbine main track to train.
“They’ve been training fantastic over it so far. There’s no kickback and they’re not sinking into it, they just seem to be floating over it,” said DePaulo.
DePaulo will be on a plane later this evening headed for Florida to watch her multiple stakes winner Caren make her seasonal debut in Saturday’s Any Limit Stakes, at Gulfstream Park.
Caren won five of six starts last season including added-money scores in the Shady Well, Nandi, Victorian Queen and Princess Elizabeth Stakes. DePaulo is looking forward to trying Caren on the Tapeta as she preps towards the Woodbine Oaks, presented by Budweiser.
“So far, I’m thrilled with the Tapeta. It’s perfect for the horses and I think it’ll really help with keeping them sound,” said DePaulo.
Sheena Ryan, who picked up a win, a second and three third-place finishes in an offseason excursion to Portland Meadows, is back at Woodbine and preparing for a 2016 meet that she hopes will see her land in the top 10 of the jockey standings.
“I took three horses over the Tapeta this morning. It’s great. The horses liked it and they travelled over it well,” said Ryan. “The colour is different. It looks really nice and it doesn’t seem as sticky and deep as the ‘Poly’ was towards the end of last year. This surface is lighter and a little more bouncy. Everyone I’ve talked to out there so far really likes it.”
Ryan, who finished 15th in the standings last season with 20 wins from 251 starts, is also keen to test her skills on another Woodbine innovation slated for later this summer.
“I’m really looking forward to riding those right-handed turf races,” said Ryan, of Woodbine’s new initiative that will see up to 25 races being run clockwise over the world-renowned E.P. Taylor Turf Course. “That’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Woodbine’s 60th season, featuring 101 stakes races worth more than $20-million in purses, kicks off on Saturday, April 9.