Shared Belief with jockey Mike Smith up defeats California Chrome and Victor Espinoza to win The GII San Antonio Invitational Stakes at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia CA. Alex Evers/ESW/CSM

Shared Belief with jockey Mike Smith up defeats California Chrome and Victor Espinoza to win The GII San Antonio Invitational Stakes at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia CA. Alex Evers/ESW/CSM

Surfaces and Footing

There are three different types of track surfaces used in American horse racing: dirt, turf, and synthetic. Please note that not all surfaces are created equal. Each individual horse has his or her own preferred surface, as well as a preferred footing (the amount of moisture in the surface). It is highly uncommon for a horse to do well on all three surfaces.  A horse’s breeding and conformation, as well as its training environment will usually dictate the preferred surface is for a specific horse.

Dirt

The dirt surface is most common surface in American racing. The makeup of the dirt varies little from racetrack to racetrack. Dirt tracks can manifest in the following footing:

  • Fast – a dry track that produces the fastest times; of all dirt footing, fast is the least tiring for the horses
  • Good – slower than the fast track, but the surface is still holds a small amount of water
  • Muddy – a wet and sticky surface
  • Sloppy – the surface is under a layer of water, but is not necessarily sticky

The footing of a dirt track can change from day to day and even from race to race depending on weather conditions such as rain, temperature, and humidity.

Turf

The turf course means racing on the grass or  the lawn.  The least commonly used racing surface in the United States is turf. However in Europe and Australia, turf is the preferred racing surface.  Turf courses are more susceptible to weather conditions than their dirt counterparts. In the United States, races are usually taken off of the grass if the ground is too wet.

  • Good – a firm and fast course
  • Soft – course is holding water and there is moderate give
  • Yielding – a  wet course. Most US turf races are taken off of the turf for this condition
  • Heavy – a saturated course and accompanied slow times

Synthetic

Synthetic surfaces are man-made surfaces that are comprised of various materials such as sand, wax, carpet fibers, and oils. There are several different manufacturers of synthetic footing, and each has its own composition. Proponents of synthetic footing tout a safer racing surface for the horses as well as a surface that is usable in a variety of weather conditions. Many turf horses perform well on a synthetic surface but the same preference is typically not seen in horses that are successful on dirt.