Bowie has been confronted with a series of knotty problems this month and the knots have won, tying up the early part of the meeting so much that 6 1/2 of the last eight scheduled programs have been canceled.
The "knots" are clods of earth held together by ice. They form after water freezes in the dirt and sand that make up the main racing strip Jockeys do not want to ride in the face of such danger. Horses also can be injured, particularly in and around the eye, if struck by such clods.
Bowie, for all its faults, is not afraid to spend money for track maintenance during its winter dates. On Monday, the management ordered the old cushion of the racing strip removed. The knots were broken up and graded to the outside, along with the old cushion, where all the materials was picked up and hauled away.
This left a good mixture of topsoil and an earlier application of sand remaining, to be graded to the middle of the strip. Approximately 2,000 tons of sand then was brought in and put down all the way around the mile track, to a depth of two inches. The new sand was graded, then mixed with the old soil and sand, and the graders were set at 3 1/2 inches to form a new cushion.
"The old cushion had more topsoil and less sand, so it tended to retain the moisture of recent weeks," general manager Al Karwacki said yesterday morning, shortly after the snowstorm had forced another lost day. "Now," Karwacki added, "we'll have a predominantly sandy cushion and we should be all right, beginning with Wednesday's card, if the weather will cooperate a little."
Bowie's problems bagan Jan. 8, when more than an inch of rain fell within 24 hours and the temperature dropped sharply, plummeting as much as 15 degrees in one 60-minute stretch.
"The rain was Sunday, the cold front moved in early Monday, preceded by snow sqalls," Katwacki recalled. "The winds gusted to as much as 45 miles an hour.It was a memorable day."
Bowie is still feeling the after-effects of that lost weekend. Only one full program has been presented since then, that of last Thursday. Saturday's card was cut in half, after five races, when the track began to freeze.
"We've received permission from the racing commission to run 10 races on Saturdays, as long as the 10 races are run in the same period of time in which we'd normally run nine," Karwacki informed. "This Saturday, for instance, we'll be carrying over the stake postponed last Saturday, the Bowie Handicap, and we'll offer it and the Free State Handicap."
That's if the weather permits, of course. Right now Karwacki is taking one day at a time, with his fingers crossed.
"We have a professional service in New Jersey which has an excellent track record with us, in terms of alerting us to what we can expect in our particular locale," the general manager declared. "He's calling for 34 degrees at midnight (Tuesday) and 34 degrees at 6 a.m. (Wednesday). The temperature is supposed to be above freezing all night along.
"If it is, we'll have racing over a sloppy strip Wednesday. But if it falls, we could be in trouble. Our man says there's a chance the storm that hit us today could redevelop on the coast, or it could dissipate. Anything can happen. We could get a mixture of snow, sleet and rain, or only any one of the three until early morning."
Our man's advanced forecast for Thursday is snow, changing to rain.
More than two inches of snow fell on the Prince George's track yesterday. Snow presents no problem. Sharp changes in temperature do, at this time of year, particularly if the mercury nose-dives after a period of heavy rain.
Bowie is accustomed to these battles against the elements. Its first winter meeting, in 1957, ran 41 days and was completed without any problems. But the 1958 meeting was a diaster and 14 of the 48 programs scheduled in 1961 fell victim to the weather.
There was one important difference, however, between then and now. In the old days there were make-up dates available when a program was canceled during the winter. No open dates are available any more, not with year-round racing in Maryland. A lost day is a day lost. The special addition of 10th races on Saturdays doesn't begin to compensate for that cold feeling management experiences from each cancellation.