Grass is greener at the track Md. superintendent wages turf battle to repair bald patches

September 13, 1998|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. -- A month before Colonial Downs was to launch its second thoroughbred meeting, John Passero inspected the track's turf course and winced.

"I had some concerns," said the Maryland Jockey Club's track superintendent, known as one of the leaders in his field. "I didn't like the color. It wasn't stressed in general, but it needed to be fed and watered on a regular basis.

"Turf is like a baby. If it doesn't get fed every four hours, it starts crying. It was time to sit or get off the pot."

Since the grass course is the showpiece of Colonial's existence, Passero's expertise was crucial in getting it into A-one condition.

"I like looking down the road when it comes to turf," said Passero. "At that time, I didn't think they had a program set up, but then they got on it. You try to be a little gentle because you're not here, so you say, 'This is the way I would do it.' "

The state-of-the-art turf is actually two courses in one with the addition of a movable rail brought in from Maryland.

Thus, track management has the options of running on either an inner or outer course or changing the course whenever one section is threatened by use or weather.

"Three areas weren't in acceptable condition. They were more a black color than green. I was looking for places that maybe wouldn't support a horse. But because of having such a wide track, we could get outside of those areas and use different lanes if we had to," said Passero.

"With lanes on two tracks, we can sort of half card [run half on each course] each day."

Seven races were run over the turf opening day, and by the end of today's card, the grass will have been used for 30 events.

Laurel Park's grass this summer would not have sustained such a pounding. In fact, the turf course was shut down several weeks before the meeting ended in late August.

Passero, with 38 years in the business, is encouraged by his experience at Colonial after watching Bermuda grass 419 take hold and provide a lush cover and 4 1/2 -inch deep footing.

"This has good green color, a nice texture and a good recovery rate," he said. "On the final day of the meet, it should still be in good condition, not looking like a dirt track like Laurel was."

The only test remaining is how the grass responds after rain. Passero is confident that this type will be up to the challenge.

"We looking at this closely because in the near future, we'd like to have a 100-foot turf track at Laurel where we could race into December. What happens here is very important," he said.

Passero, ever conscious of not creating a track bias, has watched closely results of the turf races here.

"I've seen winners coming from all over and I don't see any injuries. That tells me it's fair and right.

"I don't think you'd have any problem running whole cards on turf here, just seal off the dirt track and go."

The meet's centerpiece, the $250,000 Virginia Derby Oct. 3, is run over grass.

Punch Line falls flat

A perfect ride by Stewart Elliott and the survival of a foul claim carried Buffalo Dan to a neck victory over even-money favorite Punch Line in the featured $100,000 Chesapeake Stakes yesterday.

The victory clinched the MATCH title for older horses sprinting on dirt for Buffalo Dan, who has won three in a row.

Buffalo Dan is also in the running for a $100,000 winning bonus for taking the overall title.

"I told the jockey not to let American Champ [the speed horse] get away and to watch for Punch Line," said trainer William Perry. "Stewart rode him perfectly."

Second-place finisher Mario Pino lodged an objection after they went head and head in the final half furlong, but it was disallowed.

Colonial Downs

1998 meet: Now through Oct. 11

Post times: 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m. Monday, 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday

Dark: Tuesday and Wednesday

Information: 888-482-8722

RF Out-of-town simulcasts: For results, scratches, call 410-792-7464.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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