LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Final preparations are underway at Keeneland for the annual fall meet.
The first call to the post is less than four days away.
"I know, can you believe it? October's here," said Amy Gregory, director of communications for Keeneland. "Everyone's just getting ready for a great opening day."
While there will be fun and full crowds, safety, from COVID-19 protocols to conditions on the track is paramount to having a successful meet.
"Racetracks are just one of the factors, but they're one of the factors that we can control. That we can improve," said Dr. Mick Peterson, Director of Racetrack Safety Program at UK.
That's where Dr. Peterson and the Racing Surface Testing Laboratory come in.
Based in Lexington, the facility has samples from race tracks across the country, including Keeneland, Delmar, and Churchill Downs to name a few.
"So if you think about the tracks where you're seeing the big events, you're seeing Breeder's Cup, that's the tracks that we work closely with," said Peterson.
Conditions, climate, and surface differ from track to track. So the team tests specific spots on each track and compares the samples while looking for one thing: consistency.
"Just want to make sure the surface they're running on is as consistent as possible," said Craig Hendricks, a testing engineer.
"By keeping it consistent track surface out on the rail, we make sure that every step that the horse takes, what racing lane they’re in, is going to put the same load on the leg," said Peterson.
Last month, Peterson's team showed how to improve consistency and safety by grading the surface on a synthetic track used for training at Keeneland.
Surface grading is crucial and ensures that when horses returned for training and the meet, the track is as safe as possible.
"You already have the engines started. you're sitting on the runway ready to take off. At that point, we've already said this track looks as good as we know to make it," said Peterson.
The first races are this Friday. Big crowds are expected, so officials recommend you buy your tickets ahead of time online.