Synthetic Surfaces Continued

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Last week I published an article on how synthetic surfaces should be a back in the discussion on track surfaces going forward. I pointed to a study which indicated that the numbers show that the fatality rate is decreasing on synthetic surfaces. You would think that this would be agreeable to all horsemen and racing fans everywhere. You (as I) would be wrong.

I shared the post with my LinkedIn Horse Racing Group to get some feedback. Interestingly, most of the feedback was still quite negative towards synthetics.   You would think one look at the numbers [ View Database Statistics ] would sway people to at least consider synthetics as part of an overall discussion of making our tracks safer.

However, most people pointed to negative aspects of PolyTrack and other synthetic surfaces:

  • Soft Tissue Injuries: There were several mentions of soft tissue injuries, hind end injuries and other types of injuries not mentioned in the database.  HOWEVER, this isn’t valid as this was a study about fatalities, not injuries.   Soft tissue injuries of course are a concern and synthetic surfaces are not perfect yet, far from it.
  • Exposure to kickback from synthetics. Will there be respiratory issues? Again, this missed the point of the article. We were discussing FATALITIES to horses, that was it. But yes, if we move forward, this is a valid concern and we should study that as well.
  • One person mentioned that although he hadn’t trained over a synthetic surface,  he hadn’t encountered anyone that has that will tell you it’s conducive to a sound horse. This is just flat out wrong.   Having had several horses at Arlington, I can tell you my personal experience was that we had a great run as far as soundness goes with no serious injuries.  Interestingly, the same group of horses did not fare well either at Hawthorne or in Florida over traditional surfaces.
  • I had some emails saying that they were against synthetic surfaces as they were concerned solely about horse racing betting and felt they could not handicap properly on synthetics. First of all, this is so far off the mark as we are not talking at all about gambling, just fatalities related to different track surfaces. Secondly, the handicapping data improves all the time, so handicappers can figure out how to bet.

Other comments were discussing poor track maintenance and blamed injuries on that, and of course your less than reputable trainers.  Again this is a valid observation but NOT what the study was about. Yes, many of these trainers are brutal, and you are crazy to claim off of them. But in truth, these guys run over all types of surfaces.

So, in conclusion, it appears the view of synthetics is still pretty negative and most people don’t want to even consider a change.  Personally I think if we can reduce the numbers of fatalities lets go for it.  Continue to improve the surfaces, developing tracks which horse get over well and cause less soft tissue and hind end injuries.  Lastly try and study all injuries. Now while this is hard as a trainer isn’t going to tell you specifics. But perhaps a way of anonymous reporting. say a trainer files a report. Horse A: Suffered injury to stifle. Horse B: Small Chip, left Knee, Horse C: Cracked Cannon Bone, etc.  Then perhaps we could get a better sense and have better injury data. This would complement the fatality data and together we can someday have the near perfect surface we all seek to protect and preserve the animals we love. Until then, the sport will continue to decline as watching a horse be put down, sours a fan forever.  The image never leaves you.

Latest study should put synthetic surfaces back in the discussion

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A study was just released which looked at fatality rates over the last 4 years. The results are quite interesting and at very least should put synthetic surfaces back in the discussion over which surfaces are safer.

Remember when Keeneland installed Polytrack? It seemed they started a trend towards the synthetic tracks as others soon followed.   The surfaces seemed to promise fewer fatalities, which is the plague of racing. You want to turn off fans? Have them watch a horse snap a leg. Many will never come back. Watching a limb hanging by a thread until a vet can euthanize the poor animal is tragic and something you never forget.

Then something interesting happened. California had crappy surfaces and the numbers didn’t seem to pan out as far as improved safety.  So the trend shifted away from synthetic, back to traditional dirt.

As a horsemen I was in favor of synthetic surfaces.  Really, I just want safe tracks to train and run on. But with all the bad weather we face, it is next to impossible to keep a traditional surface consistent and safe at all times. So it has been my hope that synthetic surfaces would continue to evolve and improve. No, they aren’t perfect and have drawbacks. But every scientific innovation has point releases, improving each time.  Look at the iPhone now compared to the first release, it is light years ahead.  Unfortunately the improvement can only happen with racetracks if more tracks adopt the synthetic surfaces. This does not appear to not be on the horizon.

Still looking at the data, a few things that are crystal clear and indisputable:

  • There continues to be a reduction in the risk of fatality on synthetic surfaces.
  • The risk of fatality on synthetic surfaces was significantly lower than the risk of fatality on turf surfaces, which was significantly lower than the risk of fatality on dirt surfaces.

But, don’t take my word, see the study yourself:

Medication is the talk of the day. No matter what side you are on, safer tracks allow horses to stay sounder and require less medication. It is time to step up the work towards developing the best surface we can, whether traditional, or synthetic. Or we can throw money away on ad campaigns like Kegasus or Go Baby Go.

10 Thoughts about the Triple Crown

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  1. The best thing that can happen for racing is a horse going for the Triple Crown. The sport is jinxed and seems to becoming more and more of a fringe sport.  The negatives far outweigh the positives and it is sad to see the sport so in decline. Once America’s top spectator sport, the sport seems destined to continue to flounder. I’ll Have Another generated a lot of excitement, and sold a lot of tickets. But in the end the public was disappointed again in the sport.
  2. I’ll Have Another joins a select group of horses to win 2 legs of the Triple Crown.  The shame of course is that he was scratched so close to the Belmont.   I suspected he had problems when his trainer said there would be no workouts in between the Preakness and the Belmont.  A look at Triple Crown winners tells you this is a strategy that just doesn’t work. Most worked a solid mile in between, some with as many as 3 works in between.  While that may not be necessary, a couple of works would make sense. I think Doug O’Neill did everything he could, but in the end had to scratch.  Better than pulling up sore adding to the ammunition for the morons like PETA.
  3. It was sad that most of the attention was on Doug O’Neill’s record of violations rather than the positive things he is doing for the sport.  And unlike Dutrow, he admitted to mistakes, give him a break.  If he has more issues in the future, then rule him off.  But otherwise, enough is enough.
  4. Bob Baffert joked about his seconds, but I know he had to be pissed at Mike Smith, who came off the rail and blew the race.   Riders get into a habit where they automatically switch sticks turning from home.  A peek under his shoulder would have told him Union Rags was coming.  Mike Smith is the most overrated rider in the Hall of Fame, and he proved it again yesterday.  I will give him credit for admitting he blew it, but his quote in the Daily News was ridiculous: “My horse ran terrific,” Smith said. “I just blame myself for the end there. Otherwise I thought I rode great.”  This is like the old quote, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?
  5. Union Rags is the real deal.  Michael Matz did a fabulous job skipping the Preakness and getting him ready for the Belmont.
  6. Wayne Lukas becomes a sadder and sadder figure each year, running horses that should never be in the starting gate. Running Optimizer in all 3 legs of the Triple Crown was a disgrace.
  7. Dullahan was dull, I really thought he’d hit the board.  Stuff happens.
  8. Paynter was very game, he will be heard from the summer, hopefully with a new pilot.
  9. I’ll Have Another should be recognized as a very good horse that proves more than the blue bloods can win the big races.
  10. As all Red Sox fans said for 86 years, there is always next year.  Perhaps next year will be a Triple Crown winner that pulls racing out of its doldrums. I sure hope so.


Suffolk Downs Casino Renderings Bring Hope

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Suffolk Downs, long the red-headed step child of the Boston sports scene seems poised to finally return to a position of mid-level racing. For years, a “single a” type track, Suffolk may be able to climb out of its basement position among east coast racing venues. A boost in purses from the proposed casino should return to the track to at least compete with the Parx, Delaware and Marylands of the world. Or at least get closer. Boston is a better sports town than all of them, and we should have at least racing on or near par with the Mid-Atlantic region.

Still, I am not naive enough to think this is a done deal, although any open-minded person will admit there is only place the casino makes sense, in the area, and that is Suffolk Downs. Hopefully, the pols won’t F this up, but hey this is Massachusetts.

I think you will agree, the renderings are beautiful.  Yes I know a long way from reality, but still there is hope where before there was nothing but despair and memories of great horses coming to town.

Watch for yourself, and tell me this doesn’t look fabulous.

Blue Tail = Idiotic

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I think Dr. Kendall Hansen’s heart was in the right place, but what a dopey thing to dye the horse’s tail. YES, racing needs publicity, and I am all for that.  But when you start messing with horses on race day, it is downright silly.  I am of the school that horses should be left alone on race days as much as possible. As a trainer I tried to keep the barn a peaceful place where horses could rest until it was time to race. I feel for Mike Maker, we have all had nutty owners. But, I can’t say I have ever had to deal with an owner sending someone to dye a horse’s tail.

Play the twilight zone music when you read her comments:

“It kind of hurt me and Mike’s relationship,” Dr. Hansen told The Associated Press on Saturday night. “We’re going to have to talk it out. It was just a lack of communication. I went to a lot of effort to get this thing arranged.”

“The thing that screwed it up was one of the stewards came down and talked to Mike personally early in the day and said if we brought him over with a blue tail, they’d scratch him. Then I went over and talked to the stewards and they said there was no way they would scratch him. They’d probably fine me or something,” Dr. Hansen said. “So, I couldn’t get that information to Mike. It might have made a little bit more national news if he pulled it off. It’s disappointing for me.”

Racing needs publicity born from what makes racing special, beautiful animals competing, and an environment, whereby people can have a great day whether they win or lose.  Keeneland, and Saratoga have this figured out, as do a few others. But many places still have that racing plant feel, gross and uninviting.

But as for schtick like dying a horse’s tail, lets get away from these types of things.

Racing has no Luck

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You know, you get excited when you hear a great network like HBO is doing a racing show. They rarely fail, and had a top cast headed by Dustin Hoffman and produced by David Milch.   Although the show focused on the darker side of racing, still you hoped the show would succeed and the beauty of the sport would shine through.  With HBO’s track record, you could not bet against the series.

But racing has had a black cloud over its head for years. After the 3rd death of a horse HBO announced the show was cancelled.  I personally think that although tragic, the show was cancelled because it failed to get an audience.

This from the Bloodhorse: Despite its strong creative team and cast, the show has reportedly performed poorly. The premiere, according to press reports, attracted just 1.1 million viewers and later episodes have struggled to hit the 500,000 mark.

So, say you cancelled the show due to the tragic deaths, but it would be far more honest to admit the show was lousy despite the cast. The few episodes I saw, the beauty of the sport was hardly shown, and the underbelly of the sport was on display. The characters were stereotypes, the Latino trainer was so poorly written and the Nick Nolte character was way over the top and he was grating. Dustin Hoffman ended up being a rain-manish character and hardly someone to like.

Make no mistake, I find losing 3 horses in such a short period of time is disgraceful.   But this just provided HBO an easy out.  The sad truth is that racing is unlikely to get another shot.  Too bad.  It would have been great to see a somewhat happy show about racing. Show the beauty and the fun of the sport. Maybe a sitcom based on the backside.  There a millions of funny stories, the barn area is full of them. Use Saratoga as a backdrop, how could it fail? 

Sadly, with racing’s luck, it would find a way.

Horse Racing Video Series Unlikely To Go Viral

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I was reading the article, Racing Hopes to Go Viral With Video Series. Though I give the NTRA credit for trying,  just because you hope something goes viral doesn’t make it happen. Most things go viral by word of mouth, organically, not engineered. Someone sees a great video, passes along to a friend, who does the same. Before you know it, the thing is passed from friend to friend and has millions of views.

But this campaign is a bit too contrived, trying to force this issue. If it were that easy, you go go to Ebay and buy a viral video.  Listen, social media is an amazing thing, and I manage the social media accounts for several companies.   You need to really put in the effort, tweeting things that are interesting, informative, and no more than 20% sales and marketing.  If so, you can grow a following, a big one.  My web design firm has over 15,000 followers, (@roosites ) pretty good for a small business, and quite a bit better than most racing companies. The twitter account that I have for this site has over 4,500 followers. ( @equineproject ) I say these numbers not to brag, but to say that it takes work and time to succeed in social media.  My fear is that like most promotions that come and go, like “Go baby go”, that the NTRA will abandon the social media efforts as it is unlikely this will succeed. The video I watched was lame and I don’t see this sparking an avalanche of tweets with the hashtag, #TheOtherMadness.  In the defense of Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, they do some fine regional work. But my guess is they don’t have the budget to produce the slick type of video needed to pull off what they are looking to accomplish.

Watch the video for yourself, I would love to know your thoughts.

If you need any help managing your social media presence, please contact me via the contact page on this blog or email me directly at info (at)

HBO’s Luck a mixed bag

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I love HBO. How can you not appreciate series like the Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Entourage, etc?  So as I indicated in my previous post, I was cautiously optimistic about “Luck”. having a horse owner as the creator, to me meant a sense of realism and not the ridiculous horse movies and shows of the past.

I think in some ways they have succeeded, and there are some good qualities in the show.  The scenery and barn shots are enough to entice any horse lover. They have mixed in real riders which helps add to the feel of the show, and the racing scenes aren’t half bad. The show is dark, but HBO wasn’t going to do a feel good show about racing. Some of the scenes are hard to take, but realistic. The stiff horse in the post parade who snapped his leg was so very sad. I told my wife the second he said, “you are stiff today” he was going to break a leg. This is a sad but true moment in the sport. Though hard to watch, it certainly said to me they are going to make the show pretty realistic.

That being said,  some of the characters are ridiculously over the top.  Take the Latino trainer, wow, who wrote his lines? What a stereotype he is.  And no trainer comes into the paddock and is so nasty to a bug boy before he even rides. Sure, after he screwed up he may have heard it, but this guy attacks the kid in the morning, in the paddock, and then after the horse got claimed.  Oh yeah, he put front bandages on the horse.  Like that will scare off claiming trainers. My guess is non-horse folk may buy this, but insiders will laugh at this kind of thing.   And Nick Nolte, wow he looks like a hard luck trainer left over from a Disney movie, way over the top. And his voice is grating at this point. “They killed your daddy” he says to the horse (who appeared to laugh).  Come on, clean up the writing!

Dustin Hoffman is one of the great actors of our time, and Dennis Farina is great as well. But boy, there is something rain-manish in Dustin’s character.  “I can’t go with someone watching”. I was waiting for him to say, Kmart sucks.

As for the pick 6 crew, they again are a bit too typical. The gambler who can’t quit until he loses everything, the sad cripple, the mentally challenged guy, etc.  And the jockey agent, he is a bit too much as well. True jockey agents are annoying phony people in many cases, but he takes it to a new level.

I will continue to watch the show, as the actors are great, the scenery first rate, and I have a feeling the show will find itself and get better.  My advice is to screen the show with a trainer and remove the parts no one in the horse world will buy. of course, non-horse people won’t know the difference, so HBO may not care if the realism train goes off the track a bit.

Why HBO may succeed with Luck

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As I guy involved with horse racing for over 36 years, when I hear about a new horse racing show or movie, I cringe.

:: Why? ::

  • Typically they are so unrealistic, and any horsemen can find 20 things in every movie that just don’t happen. Case in point, in almost every movie, there is a scene with the jockey back at the barn, still wearing their silks. Well, as everyone knows, a jockey weighs out after a race, returns the silks to the color man in the jock’s room, then takes a shower and get dressed. (Unless they are riding in more races)
  • Historical Inaccuracies – Seabiscuit begins with him coming out of the clouds at Saratoga. It should have begun at Suffolk Downs in Boston, where he was discovered. In fact, there is no mention to any of his races in New England. Secretariat attempted to become the “Blind Side” for horse racing, when in truth he was one of the best bred, best looking animal that ever lived. Making it a rags to riches story just didn’t cut it. Big Red was no underdog, and Penny didn’t need food stamps no matter how well Secretariat turned out.
  • Sappy – Most of the movies are down right sappy and silly. In real life a jockey who has never ridden a race doesn’t show up to win a major race because they have a special bond with the runner.

:: Why this should work ::

  • HBO hands down creates the best programming. The Sopranos, Entourage, and now, Boardwalk Empire. If you haven’t seen Boardwalk Empire, it is an intensely gripping show, great acting, direction, and the sets are incredible. It is so powerful, that when it is over you are tired.
  • David Milch – Having a horse owner writing the script ensures a bit a realism about the sport not seen before.
  • The Cast – Dustin Hoffman is as much as you need to know. Add Nick Nolte, and a stellar bunch and you have the makings of an amazing show. Michael Mann directing certainly doesn’t hurt, as anyone who got to see, The Insider will attest.

Anyway, take a peak at the trailer below, and be sure to check out the show, January 29th at 9PM.

Havre de Grace: Nice Mare, Worst Horse of the Year Ever?

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Take nothing away from Havre de Grace, she is a very nice mare, worthy of a distaff championship. But to be horse of the year? This is an indication how weak racing was this past year.  When you compare her to the other horse of the year winners, you would be hard pressed to find many she would beat. She certainly wasn’t close to Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra.  The next possibility on the list would be Azeri. But lets not forget how brilliant she was. I would have had to go with Azeri.

When I think of the award, I think of Secretariat, Forego, Kelso, Whirlaway, Cigar, and yes Zenyatta.  I certainly don’t think of Havre de Grace.

No it isn’t her fault and yes, she is a top notch mare. But, here is hoping next year we have a standout worthy of the honor, not the best of a bad bunch.