DEL MAR — Crews rolled out the soon-to-be-green carpet at the Del Mar Race Track on March 19, one of the last scenes to be played out in a $5 million project to expand the turf course at the famed seaside venue and hopefully attract the Breeders’ Cup in 2016.
Work began just before 8 a.m., two days later than originally scheduled because the base wasn’t quite ready.
“We could have started but there’s no rush,” Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said. “We’re in good shape.”
The new course will be ready for the start of this year’s racing season, which opens July 17 and runs through Sept. 3. A second fall meet will be held Nov. 7 through 30.
Removal of the old grass began Sept. 5, the day after the conclusion of the 2013 racing season, but the project really took root about a year earlier, when 12 acres of special grass began growing in the Coachella Valley.
“It’s been a long process,” said Leif Dickinson, DMTC’s turf and landscape superintendent.
The previous turf course, installed for the 1960 season, was about seven furlongs, or seven-eighths of a mile around.
The width varied from 52 feet to 63 feet on the straight-aways and 54 feet to 56 feet at the turns.
The course will be widened to 80 feet all around.
The main track, made up of synthetic materials under the brand name Polytrack, is eight furlongs, or 1 mile around. That will likely be replaced in the near future as well because it has reached its use expectancy and is beginning to degrade.
The old turf course had GN-1 Bermuda grass, or Greg Norman-1, named for the golfer who invented the strain.
The same type of grass is being used because of its proven ability to adapt and grow well in Del Mar and withstand the track’s use of salty reclaimed water.
The grass is also tough and dense, which keeps the hoof from penetrating the turf.
The new turf will increase safety for the jockeys and horses and will be wide enough to accommodate 14 horses — a requirement for the Breeders’ Cup — rather than 10.
Dickinson said it will take about 10 days to two weeks to install the 10.5 acres of new grass.
“I’d rather go slow and get it right,” he said.
The new turf is a little on the brown side and almost appears dead. The correct term for its current state is “lean,” according to Dickinson.
“It’s not supposed to be green,” Dickinson said. “It’s a fallacy that it’s supposed to look like the Super Bowl field. We wanted this lean intentionally so it will produce roots.”
He said if the weather holds — 85 degrees and sunny all day every day — it will take about a week or two for the grass to take root in its new home.
“But we rarely get that in Del Mar,” Dickinson said. “We’re just hoping there’s no May gray or June gloom.”
Once it takes root it will be fed a special biological diet based on soil tests, which will be taken weekly.
If all goes as planned the new course will be green and good to go long before “They’re off!”