Story By: Breanna Boer, Race Marketing Intern at Harrah’s Hoosier Park
Preparing a racetrack for harness racing is not an easy endeavor. Weather is an enormous determining factor when deciding what will happen during the course of early morning workouts and late-night live racing. A track superintendent is responsible for providing a consistent and safe surface for both horses and drivers. They maintain, prepare, and inspect the track for everyday races through disking, grading, and watering the track.
Cooper Keeler of Indianapolis, Ind. is the Track Superintendent for Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. He began his career as part of the track maintenance crew in 2012 for Hoosier Park and then worked for Indiana Grand in Shelbyville, Ind. as the Assistant Track Superintendent before coming back to Harrah’s Hoosier Park in 2017 as the Track Superintendent.
With a dedicated staff behind him, Keeler explains that weather and safety for all are the biggest challenges that they face.
“We are constantly watching the weather,” Keeler noted. “Weather determines what plan to take when preparing the track for racing. That is the hardest part.”
Keeler explains that they set up the track as best they can. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong, but the main goal is to keep the track safe and consistent for everyone. Unlike some track surfaces, the track at Harrah’s Hoosier Park is used for both training and live racing.
“It is a completely different story trying to operate a training track and a racetrack,” Keeler noted. “It might look easy to some but there is a lot that goes into preparing for races later that evening.”
Keeler explained that they want the drivers to come out every night and expect the same results from the night before no matter what the weather conditions might be.
A harness racetrack differs from that of a Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse track in order to accommodate the race bikes. Keeler explains that they use a limestone dust which resembles a fine gravel. In combination with the limestone, water will allow the race bikes and the horses to get a good grip on the surface. Keeler explained that they water the track almost after every race. This helps to keep the surface from getting too dry, dusty, or loose. On hot windy days, the track will receive almost twice as much water because the wind will dry it out much quicker.
The unpredictable weather, record rainfalls, followed by extreme heat and humidity has made for a very challenging season for Keeler and his team. Even with all of this thrown at them, the team has continued to shine by ensuring the safety for all of the athletes on the track during live racing at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. Through 80 nights of live racing, Harrah’s Hoosier Park has seen three track records equaled this season including the overall track record of 1:47.2 which was met by Castle Flight in May. A testament to a job well done by Keeler and his crew.