A new $10-million turf course that will widen the running surface and increase durability to allow for an increased number of races will be installed at Churchill Downs following the Spring 2021 meet at the historic Louisville oval. Officials expect that the new course will be ready for use in the Spring of 2022, but did not rule out the possibility that turf racing could resume in November 2021.
The current Matt Winn Turf Course is a seven-eighths mile oval situated inside the dirt track and has been in use since the introduction of turf racing in 1985. It is comprised of four-inch high Kentucky 31 Fescue (90%) and Bluegrass (10%) grown in a three-inch topsoil layer over a 13-inch course masonry sand base.
The new and more robust turf course will be a similar blend of fescue and bluegrass and will have a redesigned subsurface. The growing medium will contain a six-inch upper root zone layer created with a blended mix of topsoil and grit sand which will sit on a six-inch lower sand layer constructed with masonry sand. Churchill Downs planted several test plots in the spring of 2019 and selected the best for use in the new turf course.
A state-of-the-art irrigation and drainage system and will be widened to 85 feet. The new course will allow for a variety of rail positions from 0 to 36 feet and will accommodate a field size of up to 14 horses.
Because of the project, there will be no stabling at Churchill in July and August 2021 and no racing will take place in September 2021 so as to allow for the turf course to take hold.
Of the 700 races staged annually at Churchill, approximately 25% are written for the grass. In 2019, there were 169 races carded for the turf, but 43 of those were transferred to the main track due to weather and/or sub-optimal turf conditions. Officials at Churchill were forced to cancel turf racing for the final two weeks of the current meeting.