Gulfstream Park could have nearly a third of its races on its new Tapeta surface when the Florida track's Champions meet opens Friday.
"I think we're going to try to maybe shoot for 40 percent dirt, 30 turf and 30 Tapeta," vice president of racing operations Mike Lakow told Horse Racing Nation on Monday. "You want to just keep dirt racing going."
Noting that this is the first time the track has had three surfaces at its disposal, he said, "It just depends how the flow goes, and the horsemen and the horses are going to tell us how to proceed."
Of the 168 races in Gulfstream's December condition book, 40 are on the Tapeta surface. The book also lists 56 substitute races, with 18 of those on Tapeta.
"The cheaper Tapeta races will fill better, there's no doubt about it," Lakow said. "But we have to balance our cards for the fans."
He suspects every day of competition will have races on all three surfaces.
Regardless of how the numbers shake out, trainers welcome the Tapeta surface.
"Oh, I love it," Saffie Joseph Jr. told HRN last week. "I think it's been great. We've had a lot of rain in the last couple of weeks, and the dirt is sloppy, and you may have a horse that you don't know how he's going to run on the slop. With Tapeta you never have to worry about that. It's amazing that the dirt is sloppy, and the Tapeta is just like normal. I think that's the greatest thing about it, how consistent it is. You know you're going get the same surface day in and day out."
Joseph said the surface "started out very slow at the beginning, timewise. It wasn't kind to speed. But as it started to work in, the times got much quicker, they become like normal times. It's becoming fair to speed and horses coming from anywhere on it."
"We were told when it was put it in that it needed time to settle," Lakow said. "It was safe. It just needed time to settle. And it has at this point. It's working out beautifully."
A Hall of Fame trainer agreed.
"We're very happy with it," Mark Casse said. "I think it was a wise decision by Gulfstream, and hopefully they use it a lot. I think it's great – looking forward to more of it."
Regarding the times, Casse said, "That's always the way it is. We had the same issues at Woodbine when they first started. I told everybody that would say, 'Oh, they're running slow,' I said give it a couple of weeks. And I think the times on it are really very good. My thought's always been that the main track at Gulfstream is so speed-biased it irritates me. Where I think that Tapeta, it doesn't have the bias. You can win on the lead or come from out of it, which I like."
Trainer Brian Lynch also is looking forward to it.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to race on (synthetic surfaces) when I was up in Canada, so I’ve had some experience with it," Lynch said. "Not every turf horse you think will transfer form over to (synthetic). A lot of them don’t run as good on it as you think they would. It’s a trial-and-error thing. Once we work out which ones are we think will work with (Tapeta), then we’ll give them a shot. It’s certainly not a case where you take them off the grass and put them on the (synthetic) and think you’re fine, because I’ve found over the years that not all of them take to it like you think they will."
Joseph said he thinks the new surface will be especially valuable next year "when they roll into the summer. You've got a horse on the turf, you don't have to worry about scratching him anymore. You can run them on the Tapeta. Not all are going to take a form over and get the speed the same as they run on turf. But I would say so far for about 75-80 percent of the ones we've run have run just as well on Tapeta as they've run on the turf. So I think it's a great addition to have."