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.