At The Meadows Racetrack & Casino on a hot August afternoon, Dan Coon bent over and checked a string attached to a small marker on the backside. Across the track, his brother, Greg Coon, inspected the same string tied to a similar marker. The height of the string on each side was exactly the same, meaning that the grade on this portion of track was completely balanced.
That exercise will be repeated hundreds of times as part of the track restoration, a $223,000 project that is The Meadows' most comprehensive maintenance initiative in a number of years. The refurbished surface will debut Tuesday, Sept. 3, when The Meadows resumes live racing beginning at 12:55 pm.
Mike Jeannot, president of Meadows Racing, said the track considers the extensive initiative a vital investment in a successful future.
"We offer a premier racing product, Jeannot said, "and while our racing surface always has been excellent, we wanted a track surface every bit as outstanding as our horses and horsemen. Our refurbished track will be consistent and more resilient in inclement weather.
The project includes two broad objectives balancing the grading and installing a new surface with slightly different material than The Meadows had been using. To spearhead the restoration, The Meadows engaged Charles E. Coon and Sons Inc, which was founded by Charles E. Coon, the only member of the Harness Hall of Fame whose expertise was in track design/construction/maintenance. Dan Coon and Greg Coon now are carrying on their father's work.
The Coons actually kicked off the initiative last winter when they surveyed the surface to identify uneven grading. Last week, they began "cutting, removing material where the grade was too high, and "filling, adding material where the grade was too low. And all to a tolerance of ± one-half inch.
Once grading is completed this week, the Coons will install a surface composed of crushed limestone and controlled amounts of silica similar to the current mix but with one significant modification.
"The particle-size distribution will be different, Dan Coon said. "In other words, there will be coarse particles and fine particles, but not too many of each. It will be an even cross section. We'll be able to maintain the correct cushion depth, and when it rains, we'll be able to handle it better than before.
Rich Gillock, president of the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, said horsemen appreciate the track's investment and are looking forward to competing on the new surface.
"For management to be willing to step up and do this, that's a big plus, Gillock said. "It's not happening anywhere else in the horse industry. We're hoping that, on the new surface, the racing style will change so that if you pull to the outside, the true banking will allow you to live a lot longer. We're hoping it will help reduce lameness as well.
The project will benefit horses, horsemen and fans, of course, but it also is a boon for the regional economy, as two local companies Lane Construction Corporation and Dunbar Stone are key subcontractors for the initiative. (The Meadows)