Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fine track for equines

Downs superintendent makes sure the dirt stays just right for thoroughbreds to run on

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Athletes the world over, from Olympic gold medallists to weekend warriors, have one thing in common: They want to compete on the best and safest playing surfaces.

So there is no shortage of qualified people who, in many cases, create and maintain these fields of dreams.

To a curler, the dream is to play on ice created by world-renowned icemaker Hans Wuthrich of Gimli.

Manitoba golfers rave about the province's many manicured courses, and golf clubs such as Pine Ridge and Falcon Lake are two of the best, thanks to Derrick Chlopecki (Pine Ridge) and Dave Turner (Falcon Lake), both at the top of their trade.

It's time to add Bob Timlick's name to the list, even though the athletes who use his Assiniboia Downs racetrack are thoroughbreds that can't sing his praises.

To the unskilled eye, Timlick's track is just 13/16ths of a mile of plain dirt, but it's his baby.

"The surface is a mixture of silt, clay and sand," said Timlick, who has been track superintendent since 2000 after serving a six-year apprenticeship under Keith Trenholm. "We get it hauled in from St. Claude, Man., and it's about six per cent silt, and the clay is probably the same percentage. The rest is plain sand."

A side-view cutaway would reveal there is much more to Timlick's track.

"We cut it (with harrows pulled by a tractor) to about two-and-a-half inches down, but there is a total of five inches of the mix that is semi-packed under that top two-and-a-half inches. Then under that, we have an inch of clay base and then a limestone base that is about a foot thick."

The track's composition is only half the story. There is also the job of balancing the moisture content of the mix.

"Before the races, we dump about 45,000 gallons of well water into the sand to reach our 40 per cent moisture level, just to get it prepped before the races.

"Once we reach 40 per cent, we maintain that during the races by watering (and harrowing) after every race. Usually by the end of the fourth race, when the sun goes down, we are pretty much done watering and the moisture level holds."

Manitoba Horse Racing Commission veterinarian Dr. Joe Meek, who every day examines each horse scheduled to run that day, says that a safe track is vital.

"The things that we worry about are pulled tendons, pulled suspensories and knee problems.

"You could put 10 horsemen here and they'll have eight different opinions on the track, but overall, I believe they have a good track surface here and Bob takes excellent care of it."

Timlick doesn't do all the work himself. His staff includes assistants Ted Jeffrey, Andrew Rawson, Kevin Smith and Cameron Campbell.

Timlick jokes that the weather channel is his favourite on TV, but his joke has a ring of truth.

"One of the worst things is not being prepared for a big storm like the one last weekend that just missed us. We were harrowing the track between races, but we saw the storm coming, so we switched to a different piece of equipment called a float, which kind of tightens the track up and seals it off."

At the end of the racing season and during the winter, Timlick and his crew continue to prepare the track and perform equipment maintenance. "We resurface the track, harrow it and repack it until it freezes, and then we leave it for the season. That way, it is preserved for the next season."

He has designed and built his own set of wide harrows and a float (used on a muddy or sloppy track to keep the surface tight).

"We also rebuilt the water truck last year and fixed the equipment with new teeth and fins, et cetera."

The stakes-race schedule continues Sunday with the six-furlong, $30,000 Free Press Stakes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2012 C7

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