So Long Synthetic - By Dan Liebman

Living in Kentucky, I don’t often attend the races in California. But I certainly see many simulcast races. And I definitely have my opinion on synthetic surfaces.

Attending the 2009 Breeders’ Cup, I found myself dumbfounded by how much water was being put on the track between races. I thought having a synthetic surface meant less maintenance and little need for water? One of the selling points, as I understood it, was you would never have an off track because of the excellent drainage. Putting an excessive amount of water on a surface upon which it would drain through quickly seemed, well, both silly and illogical.

Fast forward to Jan. 18, when I heard the races were cancelled at Santa Anita because of rain, followed quicky by the word that Santa Anita may return to a dirt surface. Now Santa Anita has cancelled the races for Jan. 21, though with the amount of rain hitting the Southern California area, this might have happened no matter what the surface.

Despite the frustration surely felt by track management, and the inconvenience to trainers, it was hard not to laugh.

Even those who support synthetic surfaces—and this is certainly not a total condemnation of them—understand how wise it would be to replace Santa Anita’s surface with dirt, which should have been done in 2008 when the initial problems caused the track to be ripped up and replaced.

The California Horse Racing Board, which had mandated the installation of synthetic surfaces at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, and Del Mar, would have allowed Santa Anita to go back to dirt. Yet the decision was made to give synthetic another try.

Frank Stronach, whose Magna owns Santa Anita, has never been a fan of synthetic surfaces. I have always thought Stronach correct when he said, parenthetically, “Spent the same amount of money on your dirt surface and you will have a good surface.”

How Stronach let them convince him to “re-install” a synthetic surface I don’t know.

Perhaps it is that synthetic surfaces simply work better in areas with colder climates (such as Woodbine and Turfway Park), or places with a small number of racing dates and small horse populations (like Keeneland). Again, I don’t know.

But I do know the surface at Santa Anita was a disaster and a decision to return to dirt seems to make sense.

94 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Bill Daly

Nick Zito is another who would agree.  He has maintained that a properly cared for dirt track is as safe as any synthetic track.  Frank Stronach has a lot of balls he's trying to juggle and sometimes he drops one.

21 Jan 2010 9:59 AM
David

In fairness to the California Horse Racing Broad their mandate was in response to their state’s sketchy safely record.  The problem was that research consisted mostly of testimonials delivered by those trying to sell something.  The reality then as it is now that a verdict on synthetic versus dirt surfaces won’t be in for some time.  Assuming a state has legitimate, ethical licensees (which California does), track surface type and its maintenance should be a management decision, not province of regulators.

21 Jan 2010 10:01 AM
Somethingroyal

Amen! Someone finally stepped up to the plate and made the right  decision to return the track back to a dirt surface. To bad the switch won't be made in time for Zenyatta's possible first race in the Santa Margarita on March 13th.

21 Jan 2010 10:26 AM
sarcsm1

being a trainer in So Cal I can tell you I hate the synthetic here and I will be so happy to see them go back to dirt.  Leave it to CA to shoot themselves in the foot again

21 Jan 2010 10:44 AM
longwaytomay

What I have read is that the problem at Santa Anita is when they replaced the surface the second time they reused the sand from the first time. The problem is in the sand. I will be happy when they go back to dirt.

21 Jan 2010 10:47 AM
Bold Ruler

I think there was a twofold justification for sythetics in CA. First, the arid climate and consequent need for  a lot of water on the track is prohibitively expensive.  CA dirt was termed "hard" which was not a reference to the track cushion, but the rock hard kickback that resulted from too little moisture in the track. Second, the injuries that probably result from an all out effort to avoid that kickback by racing at breakneck speed from the gate.  

Problem may be that the arid climate and consequent heat impacts the polymer compounds in ways that compromise the uniformity of the surface.

American dirt racing demands a high degree of athleticism, speed and stamina. All the attributes that make the Thoroughbred compelling.  Find a way to return to dirt in CA that does not demand so called "giddy-up" style racing and we can emphasize the best elements of the thoroughbred with minimal injuries.

21 Jan 2010 11:28 AM
nonnonheinous

My understanding is that Santa Anita's problems have to do with some bad sand early on, and the wax melting off or something like that. It's now the leftover traces and the wax at the bottom layer that is preventing drainage (duh, wax is not water permeable). Correct me if I'm wrong, someone who is actually knowledgeable about the situation.

I'm not saying they shouldn't go back to dirt, because I have always thought that, like Stronach said, if you spent the same amount of money on a dirt surface with fancy/efficient drainage, you would have something just about as good at handling weather--I would guess.

It would also be nice for the California trainers if at least one top tier track in CA had a good dirt surface, for those horses that prefer it and for the ability to prep on dirt for the Triple Crown races, without having to leave the state etc.

But lets be fair--there are other synthetic surfaces that aren't having the water drainage problem that SA is. That tells me there is something unique going on at Santa Anita (i.e. the wax/sand issue), and I'm glad they're finally addressing it, whether or not they would have had to cancel racing anyways if they had a dirt surface in the weather they are getting.

However, GG Fields is getting a lot of rain, too, and they are having no problems, from what I understand. Santa Anita should either go back to a extremely high quality dirt surface, or consider installing Tapeta, if that truly seems to be the most trouble-free synthetic surface.

I'm just curious, have they ever tried to mix synthetic and dirt? Putting aside adding the various types of synthetic fibers presumably intended to cushion, I'm assuming the sand in synthetics is coated for a reason? For water drainage? Has anyone tested mixing the coated sand in with a dirt track to reduce muddiness?

21 Jan 2010 11:35 AM
pNewmarket

Perhaps if the synthetic track at Santa Anita had been installed correctly (there are plenty of articles out there that state it was not) it would have had a better chance.

By all means put in a new track if the current one is unsafe or unworkable but be very careful of the message you are sending out.  I read that fatalities have decreased by 49% (not sure if this was Santa Anita or California in general) since the installation of synthetic tracks, so by installing a dirt track it may be perceived by the "average joe" that racing would rather go back to having 49% more horses die.

Synthetic is not perfect by any means, but safety of the horse must be the number one priority, not the wishes of handicappers who can't alter their betting systems or trainers who can't adapt their methods.

21 Jan 2010 11:45 AM
Oldie

Have the tracks with Tapeta experienced similar issues?

21 Jan 2010 11:46 AM
LABob

Did anybody see the Breeders Cup broadcast?  Temperature of the synthetic track was measured anywhere between 120-140 degrees.  That can't be good for a horse's feet!

21 Jan 2010 12:22 PM
Christian

Clearly Santa Anita has experienced problems that are unique to Santa Anita. What ever they are they have not corrected them. And better the devil you know than the one you don't. Even with a good track surface (synthetic or dirt) skill in maintaining the track is essential and only comes with years of experience. A couple of years of synthetics is just not enough experience.  You would have to say the same for the other synthetic tracks, which could be an indication that when installed correctly synthetic is easier to maintain than dirt. In the end I think the decision to go back to dirt is good for Santa Anita.  Too bad it was not done prior to this years Breeders Cup. What a Breeders Cup that would have been!

21 Jan 2010 12:44 PM
Old Timer who can still recall

In my over forty-five years of CA racing experience I have never seen cancellations like we have had the past few years on the 'All weather tracks'. Yes we did get deluged with rain in the 60's and on those rare occasions I still don't recall more than a day or two at the most of cancelled racing for those entire SA meets. Horsemen are different today, horses are trained different today and yes horses are different today. With all the rain CA has had this week has any official horsemen type person checked out Del Mar to see if it is draining properly? Magna has spent their money twice (or their shareholders money), let them put in what they want now for a surface.

21 Jan 2010 12:44 PM
ptrckj7777

drainage,drainage,drainage.whatever kind of surface you put on top,  dirt,synthetic or grass,you must have a good drainage system.with out good drainage,nothing is going to stay stable and safe.

21 Jan 2010 1:07 PM
Lmaris

Amen, sadly a year too late.

Muddiness isn't that much of a problem with a sealed track.  Santa Anita just wasn't getting a synthetic track to work, so a quality dirt track is the best solution.  Just wish it had been done for 2009 so the Breeders Cup races could have been run on the proper surface.

21 Jan 2010 1:36 PM
Andrew A

When we only had dirt less than 5% of Horseplayers complained about the surface. Now that we have synthetic surfaces over 50% of Horseplayers complain about the surface.

How have synthetic surfaces benefitted racing? The road to the triple crown is diminished and so is the battle for HOY.

The safety issue is misleading at best and I believe many of the people who advocate synthetics are outright lying.

How can you take the worst three years of dirt at Del Mar with a decades old base and then compare fatality statistics to a synthetic surface with a new base and new synthetic material. You can’t but they do it all the time. Keenland/Polytrack is the mothership for all this stuff. There is big money behind it and usual suspects come out and spin the public every time the subject comes up.

In the “you can’t make it up” category, at Del Mar they have installed a reverse osmosis watering system for the Polytrack while horses and humans drink tap water. If you think I’m kidding here it is:

legacy.signonsandiego.com/.../news_1s13delmar.html

Excerpt:

The DMTC has installed a reverse osmosis system on site that will provide purified water for use on the track. Tap or other unpurified water could contain contaminants that in time would compromise the material.

If people followed this as closely as I do they would get it but very few do. The nuts that run things are so out of control someone has to call them out. What an embarrassment.

To be continued.................... after I stop laughing (or crying)

21 Jan 2010 1:36 PM
sruby

wow!money can sure drain through that track! Installation,re- installation,lost days,it has been a college 101 course on how not to do it right the first time. They tinkered with it from day one adding to MUCH sand to get that hard track California feel in the first place forever messing up what a synthetic track is, synthetic!

21 Jan 2010 1:37 PM
Zookeeper

Mr. Liebman,

Why would you find it hard not to laugh at the difficulties Santa Anita is experiencing?

There is nothing funny about it.

21 Jan 2010 1:42 PM
Citation

Finally, the return to dirt!as a trainer in so cal Synthetic tracks have not done anything they were billed to do  they are NOT safer not low maintinance and all weather.We do need to have good dirt maintained properly.Maybe we should also go back to a few muddy days and mud marks not create WET FAST tracks that are unsafe seal and float them then if its muddy thats ok it worked @santa anita for 50 years maybe there is a use for synthetic tracks some where not in So cal.

21 Jan 2010 1:45 PM
mike rullo

thank god we will get dirt back!!!

just put in a nice cushion and this game will start to get back on track.

21 Jan 2010 1:50 PM
Assault
Dirt racing is so boring. A monkey can pick the winner.

Pace makes the race. Be prepared for horses to draw off by 6, 8 or 10 lengths (on a frequent basis) when Santa Anita returns to dirt.

Quite a while back, NASCAR enacted restricter plate racing, so the finishes were more exciting.

NASCAR did studies on why fans left in the middle of a race and would not stay to the end.

The fans said "the leader is two laps ahead of the field".

Richard Petty and David Pearson used to win Nascar events by several laps and the fans of the other drivers would leave the racetrack because their driver didn't have a chance to win the race. They ended up leaving the racetrack early to beat the traffic

Nowadays (since the advent of restricter plate racing), no one leaves the super speedways (Daytona, Talatega, etc). The fans stay to the end and the finishes are tight.

I love when my horse is drawing away by 5,6,7,8,9 or 10 lenghts from the field.

The problem is:

The fan that does not have that horse that is drawing away from the field is disgusted by the speed bias of a "dirt" surface.

21 Jan 2010 2:03 PM
Belmont

Santa Anita going back to "dirt"?

Mmmmmmm......

Those trainers better be prepared for sealed (hard) racetracks and sore shins with their 2yr/3yr olds.

Kentucky Derby dreams don't mean anything though. Let's go back to dirt [sarcasm].

21 Jan 2010 2:11 PM
Dan Liebman

Dan,

This is your shadow speaking.

The only thing you could pick on a synthetic surface is your "nose", because you surely couldn't pick a "winner".

21 Jan 2010 2:15 PM
Lorenzo

How Stronach let them convince him to “re-install” a synthetic surface I don’t know.

Dan: This statement is half correct. They did re-install a new surface but not a whole new track.

To use a simple analogy lets take carpeting in a home for example. They replaced the carpeting but left the original padding in place believing the carpeting was causing the drainage problems. When the padding was the true cause for the track not draining properly. Now they are going to rip the carpeting and the padding out and start from scratch. What they are replacing it with they have not said.

21 Jan 2010 2:40 PM
Chas

As a native Californian, who has been a racing fan since the 1980's and even an owner in the late 1990's, the 'mandate decision' to put in synthetic racing surfaces made by the CHRB led by former Chairman Richard Shapiro and not objected to by board memeber Jerry Moss (Owner of Zenyatta) was the dumbest decision ever made in regard to the sport in the State of California.

Simple common sense told anyone who had that sense, synthetic surfaces due to their make up(wax/polymer)was not going to work in the climate of warm to hot temperatures we get; clearly synthetic tracks would need maintance work unlike what the suppliers of those surfaces said; and as the Pro-Ride expert Ian Pearse said, 'the Pro-Ride tracks are not used for BOTH training and racing in Australia like here at Santa Anita'...

Bottom line, the original dirt track simply needed to be dug up with a new drainage system put in, new dirt and a better maintenance program and everything would have been fine...Of Course one must remember due to athletic competition injuries will happen whether its football or horse racing.

But, instead people like Shapiro and Moss(who has never been a vocal voice on the CHRB board about what is truly best for the sport)either make decisions that ruin the sport of horse racing and/or do nothing at all to stand up and say that is the wrong decision...

Bring back real dirt to Santa Anita and we can have real racing just like at Saratoga, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn and Gulfstream.

21 Jan 2010 2:47 PM
GeeGees

I have no problem going to a safer surface, however synthetic really hasn't proved that much safer.  The way I look at it thoroughbreds ran on dirt and turf for over 300 yrs and the best rose to the top.  Why change?  Just one person's opinion.

21 Jan 2010 4:02 PM
Judy G ~ Burbank, CA

Zenyatta "welcomes" Rachel! :-)

I hope to see the Breeders' Cup back here!!

21 Jan 2010 4:31 PM
Destroyer

Pro Ride is waxless, but perhaps there is some wax left over from Cushion Track. When speaking about Pioneerof the Nile's lack of a dirt start before last year's Kentucky Derby, Baffert remarked that Pro Ride's Santa Anita track had more dirt in it than other synthetic tracks.

A return to dirt at Santa Anita Park would be awesome.

Synthetic has helped degrade the California circuit to almost nothing.

The field sizes are so small there these days, that even Santa Anita and Hollywood Park have not been worth wagering on  -- two of the most beautiful tracks in North America, with great jockey colonies and trainers. But cheap dirt horses can ship to Arizona, New Mexico, Portland, or Emerald Downs -- or better horses can go to better dirt tracks farther away. A dirt track would help keep more horses in California.

Also, the trainers and their horses in Cali should have a dirt track where they can be conditioned/campaigned on real dirt. It would have been much better if Pioneerof the Nile or Zenyatta had run on real dirt at Santa Anita. Such horses could no longer be regarded nor disregarded as merely synthetic specialists. Dirt would improve the Cali horses future campaign prospects, and probably their bloodstock values.

21 Jan 2010 4:47 PM
Jersey Josh

Moving forward this is good news.  But for some, not so good...How'd it work out for the history lost at Bay Meadows?  Not saying they wouldn't have closed anyway, but the surface switch did speed it up.  Also, does this allow the other tracks, if they wish to switch back?

21 Jan 2010 5:16 PM
Michael B.

As a long-term Southern California racing fan, I have all but stopped attending or betting on California races since synthetics were installed.  The racing is boring and esthetically not very much fun to watch.  One of the most thrilling things that I used to see was a top-class speed horse trying to stretch that speed over a route of ground.  I can still recall horses such as Ack Ack, Native Diver, and Kennedy Road (I can still hear Harry Henson's call of the Hollywood Gold Cup when Kennedy Road, who had led just about every step of the way, held off Quack, who put a head in front at the sixteenth pole, only to have Kennedy Road come back again).  You just do not get this with synthetics; instead, everyone is trying to slow it up, leading to six-furlong fractions of 1:13 and change, even in Grade 1 races. Synthetics have done nothing that their proponents have said they were going to do.  They are not maintenance-free, and, especially in view of the Santa Anita fiasco, they are not "all-weather."  In Southern California, a marginal reduction in fatalities has been more than offset by a huge spike in hind-end injuries that force horses out of training for months at a time.  We now have constant five- and six-horse fields.  Remember that synthetics were installed first in England, a country where it rarely exceeds 75-80 degrees, even in the summer; in Southern California, especially Santa Anita in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles, it frequently reaches 105 degrees in the summer and early fall.  I can't wait for them to go back to dirt.

21 Jan 2010 5:45 PM
Paul A

Backwards we go to the rock hard surface and if we are really lucky back to the sealed tracks which horses come back sore from, and sometimes much worse.  The track at SA has been safe, the drainage is the issue, Hollywood Park, Golden Gate and Del Mar are fine..the problems in CA are declining purses, thus declining horse population as owners get out of the business or ship to slot enhanced tracks.  Gas up the horse Amblulance, here we go again.  Very Sad.

21 Jan 2010 6:20 PM
Deborah

Thank goodness for a return to dirt for Santa Anita.  Put all of the synthetics back to dirt.  If a horse cannot run on a dirt track, then he/she should not be in the game in the first place!

Deborah

21 Jan 2010 7:06 PM
todd

Richard, (trainer of Big Brown)said it best. The synthetic's very well may be better for the horses joints, but with all the stuff were having to deal with here this track is not for me.  He returned to the big A with all the horses he had out there. Synthetic's have had a good run here in this country.  Remington tried it years ago, did not work there. But the time for the short sale on synthetic's is now. Dirt is a better track.

21 Jan 2010 7:08 PM
tvnewsbadge

“Spent the same amount of money on your dirt surface and you will have a good surface.”

And, we know for a fact that the money necessary would actually be spent?

What people are forgetting is that the rate of breakdowns on American dirt tracks is ALSO a disgrace.

Dirt or synthetics, the dirty little not so secret is that the objection to synthetics is that bettors can't make a buck on them because they don't know how to handicap them.

21 Jan 2010 7:51 PM
tbbjr

I will repeat: there is no safer surface than a well maintained dirt track!  Synthetics are for cold climate, winter meets and, other than that, for claimers.

21 Jan 2010 7:57 PM
Shamfan49

I don’t recall all the details, but if memory serves, a few years back the owners of Prairie Meadows in Iowa considered installing a synthetic surface. Before doing so, they studied the issue and decided that the problem with their dirt surface was that the track had calcified from rainwater residue and that for less than a million dollars they could decalcify the dirt and have a safe track for the horses to train and race over. I don’t know if the results accomplished what they wished.

Maybe a few months ago, I forget when exactly, I read an article in one of the Thoroughbred weeklies that, in the author’s opinion, the reason more American race horses were breaking down than their European cousins was because of the way the horses are trained. Unlike their kin, American thoroughbreds train on a banked oval. They almost always run in the same direction. It was argued that constantly running in the same direction on a banked surface causes additional stress to the hips leading to bad outcomes. Have no idea whether or not those findings have any merit, but they certainly warrant further consideration.

I do find it curious that neither of the last two Horses of the Year won the Breeders’ Cup Classic those years and the two races were run on a synthetic surface.

21 Jan 2010 7:59 PM
Householder

Magna owns Santa Anita this week but how about the next?  The "investors" are already nervous enough to demand and get additional revenue taken out of the exotics (20%?) for day to day operations.  So now your telling me as a potential buyer I will have to replace the surface?  What's wrong with this picture?  How much less is Santa Anita now worth than yesterday?  And what's with the timing of the announcement?  Is there a perspective buyer?  Sounds like a fire sale. Something smells bad here.

21 Jan 2010 8:01 PM
Mark

Santa Anita is the most beautiful track in the country. On this, no one can disagree.

Santa Anita is poised to be the permanet host of the Breeders' Cup.

While I have never liked the artificial surfaces (or anything that makes handicapping even more difficult than it inherently is, for that matter.....), I dislike even more the way that this move to return to a dirt surface becomes a deal sealer for Santa Anita to keep what amounts to a monopoly on something that was formed to be a rotating, international event. Only once has this event been run outside of the USA. Keeping the BC at SA does not ensure that it remains the greatest day in horse racing, rather it renders the event to one only marginally more important than any of the statebred events set up in its image.

Dirt = good.

BC @ SA permanently = BAD.

21 Jan 2010 8:07 PM
GunBow

Why is it that so many people seem to believe that:

Synthetic = California

Those horseplayers who dislike synthetics typically single out California for special condemnation.  Some times it goes as far as those people decrying horses like Zenyatta as illegitmate champions because they raced only on synthetic surfaces.  As much outrage as there is with California and it's horses, something the Rachel-Zenyatta HoY debate enflamed even further, I have read few complaints about Keeneland, Arlington, Woodbine, Turfway, and Presque Isle and the horses that race at those tracks.

Folks, California is not the only state to have synthetic surfaces!  I have seen no one questioning the legitmacy of She Be Wild even though the 2 year old filly champ was running on synthetics at Arlington and Keeeneland before winning the Breeder's Cup.  What about Informed Decision?  Where's the outrage over a mare that did her best work at Keeneland, Arlington, and Presque Isle before winning the BC Filly + Mare Sprint?   Why is the Santa Anita Derby viewed with such scorn by the anti-synth brigade when the Blue Grass, Lexington, and Lane's End are also synthetic preps?

Perhaps California is the target of so much criticism because EVERY thoroughbred track(except little used Fairplex and smaller fair tracks) was mandated to adopt a synthetic surface?  Perhaps it is because the Breeder's Cup has been held at Santa Anita the last two years and dirt horses from the East have performed so poorly(although Eastern horses didn't exactly do well when the Breeder's Cup was contested at Santa Anita in 2003 and 1993 either)? Perhaps it is because during the last 2 years of synthetic racing in California a great runner, Zenyatta, has emerged, against which there is no horse in the past to compare her with given synthetic surfaces are new to North America (and should synthetic surfaces die out, there will be no future horses with which to gauge Zenyatta's greatness)?  Perhaps it is because California used to be the state where "speed was king", and the difference in the style of racing produced by the synthetic surfaces has been so profound and abrupt, causing major problems for jockeys, horsemen, and handicappers?  Perhaps it is because there has, as yet, been no widely accepted evidence that synthetic surfaces have actually decreased racetrack fatalities and injuries, the main reason behind their installation? Perhaps it is because some of the synthetic surfaces have proven to be just as expensive and time-consuming to maintain, thus refuting the 2nd most important reason synthetics were installed?  Perhaps it is because all 4 of the major throughbred tracks in California have a DIFFERENT synthetic surface?  Santa anita has Pro-Ride, Hollywood Park has Cushion Track, Del Mar has polytrack, and Golden Gate has Tapeta.  One would think it would have been beneficial if at least a few of the tracks had the same surface so that superintendents could better consult with one another and collect data quicker.

Without question, synthetic surfaces have not proven to be the panacea their creators and sellers advertised.  However, there are some important things for people to remember:

1) Not all synthetic tracks are in California.

2) Not all synthetic surfaces are experiencing the same problems as Santa Anita.  While Santa Anita fails to drain and has been closed, Hollywood Park's Cushion track has remained opnened to training, and Golden Gate's Tapeta surface open to racing and training.  Further east, tracks like Woodbine, Turfway, and Arlington seem to be working as advertised, with the first two being able to keep racing dates they otherwise would have lost to cold weather with dirt surfaces.  

3) The change in racing sytle produced by synthetic surfaces has not been as severe in certain tracks.  Without question, the change in the sytle of racing at Santa Anita and Del Mar has been profound.  Once known for early speed, the SA and Del Mar surfaces now play more like turf than convential dirt.  The difference has been just as extreme for Keeneland, but unlike Santa Anita, Keeneland is a niche track to begin with, and has a very limited racing schedule.  Turfway has also experienced a significant change in track bias, but outside of Lane's End day and Kentucky Cup day, it doesn't host many important stakes.  

Because Santa Anita is California's main track, the change in racing sytle has most affected handicappers, bettors, and numbers-makers.  As a person having returned to Southern California after a decade back East, I can admit that I do miss those brilliant speed horses that would dash to a huge early lead and then never stop, earning Beyers over 110 on a regular basis.  Now, even top stakes horses barely break the 100 Beyer mark.  However, this is not to say that the very best horses are any less talented than the horses of a deacde ago.  It's just that the brilliance now seen is more similar to top European horses(think of Zenyatta more like Zarkava and Sea the Stars, undoubtedly brilliant, but not in a Dr.Fager way).  

Not all of the synthetic surfaces have produced such a dramatic change.  Hollywood Park's Cushion Track plays much closer to conventional dirt.  During the recent Fall/Winter meet, a number of horses went gate to wire at Hollywood, winning by large margins.  As for Arlington and Woodbine, I have heard very few complaints from those on track or those playing those two tracks via simulcast.  Having been to Woodbine and Arlington a number of times since the switch to synthetic, the lack of complaints is profound when compared to what I hear at Santa Anita.

4) It still takes a good horse to win on a synthetic track.  Although the Beyer speed figures might not necesarilly back it up, the horses winning major races on synthetics are just as good as the horses that won those stakes on dirt.  However, like I stated above, it is a different type of brilliance, with more emphasis on closing speed rather than early speed(especially at Santa Anita and Del Mar).  For those critiquing synthetic stakes winners like Zenyatta for their low Beyers, remember that Beyer speed figures are not as informative for turf races(and that turf Beyers typically run about 4-8 points lower than dirt Beyers per class level), and that Europe uses the more subjective Timeform or Racing Post numbers.

5) Not everyone in California or attending other tracks with synthetic surfaces necessarilly prefers synthetic surfaces.  I consider myself among them.  A well maintained dirt track, I believe, can be every bit as safe as the synthetic surfaces I have seen(although Santa Anita has experienced very few race-day injuries so far this meet, a positive change from last year's meet which started tragically).  Pinnacle Racetrack, just outside Detroit, has a very deep dirt track, and although the horse population is of low quality, I witnessed few if any major injuries while attending the races the last two years.  While I didn't go to Pinnacle every day, I went enough, and looked at the charts enough to have seen if there had been an injury problem.  

Yet, I fully respect and appreciate the horses running well over synthetic surfaces, particularly those winning stakes.  Just because synthetics are new, or because they are failing to live up to inflated promises doesn't take away from horses like Zenyatta or Gio Ponti, or Dancing in Silks, or Lookin at Lucky, or Blind Luck, or Informed Decision, or She Be Wild.  These are good, good horses. Some might not go on to race well on dirt, but many will. Just look at the horses who have gone from synthetic to dirt: Mine That Bird, Zenyatta(Apple Blossom), I Want Revenge, Papa Clem, Careless Jewel(Woodbine), Well Armed, Gayego, Albertus Maximus, Two Step Salsa, Informed Decision(Humana Distaff), Heatseeker(Oaklawn Cap'), Colonel John, El Gato Malo(Lone Star Derby), Misremembered(Indiana Derby), Mythical Power(Lone Star Derby), Massone, Gabby's Golden Gal, etc.  

21 Jan 2010 8:25 PM
GunBow

Deborah:

What about turf horses? Just get rid of Gio Ponti, Presious Passion, and just about any horse running in Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, and now Dubai?

21 Jan 2010 8:30 PM
GunBow

Michael B:

I too miss those brialliant speed horses we used to see in Cali.  10-15 years the sprint division in SoCal would ALWAYS be loaded.  And then, for distance races, there would be brilliant speed types like Ruhlmann, Criminal Type, Sunday Silence, Winning Colors, Sea Cadet, Tabasco Cat, The Wicked North, Sir Beaurfort, Alphabet Soup, Siphon, Free House, Farma Way, Marquetry, Bertrando, Skimming, Lava Man, Congaree, Came Home, Bayakoa, Azeri, Paseana, Indian Charlie, In Excess, Tiznow, and a breathtaking horse like Gentlemen(the way he and Siphon turned out 23 second internal quarters during the 97' Hollywood Gold Cup which produced a 121 Beyer. Gentlemen also earned a 121 Beyer in the Pacific Classic, tied for 2nd with the highest Beyer I ever saw in person with Best Pal's 92' San Fernando and behind only Best Pal's 123 in the 92' Big Cap).

Do not, however, completely dismiss the horses running in California now.  As I wrote in my long post, the top horses running now are brilliant in a European/turf way not like a Gentlemen.  Gone are those brilliant horses that could run a 45 and change half and keep going.  However, the horses that have replaced them, those that excel on synthetics, have talent.  Their talent, like a Zarkava or Sea the Stars in Europe, is their ability to accelerate mid-race, and close with a rush. Any horse, like Zenyatta, that can turn in a 22 second final quarter after having already run a mile, is a brilliant horse!  We never saw 22 second final quarters (at 10 furlongs) when SoCal had dirt!

21 Jan 2010 8:52 PM
Dan Liebman

It was hard not to laugh for several reasons, but mainly because of a track with a synthetic surface having to cancel because of rain. But I was being sarcastic; of course it is not really funny.

21 Jan 2010 9:23 PM
John T

Obviously a large part of the problem with the synthetic surface at Santa Anita is the pro ride which they chose.I have yet to hear

anyone say anything bad about a polytrack synthetic surface like the one that is used at ny own local track Woodbine.Racing is much more fun going their when the weather is off when the track is always listed as fast instead of the old days under the dirt track

when the going was always sloppy,muddy,or slow.As well as North America polytrack has always flourished well in the UK and now at Dundalk in Ireland.

I am more than curious to see how

the new track in Dubai, Meydan makes out when their racing season

gets underway next week-end with the tapeta synthetic surface.

21 Jan 2010 10:24 PM
Citation

Trust me synthetics are not safer the true injury reports are not told this has been a political football the powers that be try to use the figures to their advantage. I tried last week to get a Nuclear scan and I was 14th in line

21 Jan 2010 10:27 PM
jim

first of all at least its good for handicappers that besides satellite wagering they do not have to worry about synthetic and what kind of synthetic surface. Two surfaces was good but satellite wagering opened up just to much handicapping to be done in one day even with computers.

Regarding synthetic surfaces, from what i read its still in the study phase. Hase't anyone thought of before making a long term decision to get scientific tests done besides people giving their opinion who have a financial stake in the outcome.These are the reasons top bucks are paid to decision makers to make the right decision.

they should have asked for an independent scientific study before making a mandate because it affects people's lives in the industry.

21 Jan 2010 10:44 PM
CV

I hope all those who tend to laugh derisively at California tracks and the horses that run over them read Gunbow's comment.

It was educating and informative.

21 Jan 2010 11:20 PM
Suzanne

I've been watching horses race on wet dirt for many years, surfaces puddled and pouring rain, but I think I've seen more breakdowns on fast tracks! I like the idea of recycling, but I definitely think that more research needs to be done.

21 Jan 2010 11:53 PM
Don

I am so glad they are going back to dirt at SA. Now if they would get rid of the synthetic crap up at Golden Gate Fields I would be a happy man. A dirt track at SA should be as safe as any synthetic surface. They do have a drainage problem but as I understand it there is either sand or synthetic material causing the blockage. Hopefully they will replace with material that will allow for proper drainage. The drainage system is supposed to be state of the art and if that's the case a dirt surface should drain very quickly.

22 Jan 2010 12:05 AM
Stuart

As you may remember, when Santa Anita had a dirt surface, a pronounced speed bias existed; I see that returning with the re-introduction of dirt.  That is something with which I do not wish to contend as a bettor.

I have a feeling that Santa Anita's issues result more from engineering issues with the base of the track and not the surface. According to your logic, Golden Gates Fields and Hollywood's surfaces should be a failure, which would be news to me. It seems to me that the problems that Santa Anita has had with synthetic surfaces may stem from a lack of enthusiasm for them by Stronarch. One of the major reasons for going synthetic was the safety of the horses, which was not addressed in your article. Reading your editorial about the end of a synthetic racing surface at Santa Anita, it was obvious that you prefer dirt.

22 Jan 2010 12:25 AM
Zookeeper

GunBow,

You are amazing! You cut through the nonsense and offer very astute, logical and dispassionate observations. Thank you!

Mr. Liebman,

Sorry I jumped on you. I see the irony of the situation but as a Californian I get defensive. Even the best dirt track would not be able to withstand the quantity and force of the storms we have experienced this week. It's a freaking deluge. I remember the pictures of a totally flooded Churchill Downs. Laughing was the last thing that crossed my mind at the time. Peace! :)

22 Jan 2010 12:52 AM
smartyjones1

also it's the configuration of the track itself,,just look at the wide sweeping turns at belmont it's easier on the horse, and also we should consider that maybe there is just too many racing dates

22 Jan 2010 8:10 AM
cindy

The safety of the rider should also be considered.  There is no slide on the synthetics, the lack of slide being the cause of serious injuries including broken necks and backs as seen at Arlington Park and Keenland this past year.  Injuries to horses has not been improved over these surfaces.  The media coverage has been so one sided in this area.  Well maintained dirt and grass is still the safest and most natural surface for horse and rider.  

22 Jan 2010 8:25 AM
Bill Daly

In truth, I doubt whether any track surface could stand up to the deluge SA has experienced this past week.  Of course, this doesn't mean that a better solution is not available.  The problems SA experiences are undoubtedly due to the unique climate in that area. I wonder whether there are any other locations with similar climatic conditions which have had successful synthetic racetracks?

22 Jan 2010 9:31 AM
ginny

As a trainer and rider of my own horses,  I can tell you the concussion felt over synthetic opposed to dirt is less than half!   Yet, synthetic is not perfect: wax under hot sun?  What did they think would happen?  There are no surfaces that do not require maintenence yet synthetic is a step in the right direction,  the direction of the safety of the horse.  Now they just need to make trainer's tests more difficult to acquire so that trainers actually know the anatomy and physiology of a horse therefore less breakdowns.

I also believe state Vets' are reluctant to scratch horses that should not be racing because of small field sizes or "who" the trainer/owner is. It's also ironic to me that those that oppose the synthetic surfaces are those that have not adjusted their training to do well on them and those that cannot handicap well on them.

22 Jan 2010 9:46 AM
Bocephus

No one seems to remember how obviously hard and dangerous the racing surfaces in Southern California were before the switch to synthetics.  Why do you think that they mandated the switch to synthetic surfaces in the first place?  How soon you forget...

22 Jan 2010 9:50 AM
mike rullo

synthetic surfaces take the brilliance out of the race horse.It makes average horses better,and better horses average.

look at vale of york he has no shot at winning the derby.

22 Jan 2010 11:37 AM
Bobby

why not spend the money developing and installing a world class dirt track that is safe for horses?.. do studies on base composition, drainage, dirt composition, etc.. American racing = real dirt!

22 Jan 2010 12:01 PM
Judy G ~ Burbank, CA

After reading some of the posters, I see some people still feel the dirt causes more injuries or fatalities. However, I remember reading somewhere that they've found the synthetic surface at SA has been causing some major problems with the horses legs! That is NOT a good thing. SA has kept records of horses who have broken down during workouts on this surface and though they are not as high, this is cause for concern.

I've been there during workouts and thank God I haven't witnessed this in person!!

Therefore, as one poster commented, perhaps SA should rethink what type of "synthetic surface" they should be installing instead of dirt.

Maybe people should start submitting their suggestions to SA before the meet is over!! We ALL want what is BEST FOR THE HORSES...

22 Jan 2010 12:42 PM
CV

"It was hard not to laugh for several reasons, but mainly because of a track with a synthetic surface having to cancel because of rain. But I was being sarcastic; of course it is not really funny."

--Dan Liebman 21 Jan 2010 9:23 PM

Perhaps you should lose the sarcasm and try a little more objectivity. Sarcasm blinds...and deafens...people to what's going on around them. All they can see and hear are their own preconceived opinions.

For example, you seem unaware that the different synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields has received the same amount or more rain as Santa Anita, yet it reportedly hasn't suffered the same drainage problems.

Wouldn't that fact suggest you should contact the officials at Golden Gate and talk to them, or someone associated with the installation of the track's surface to seek some answers about it?

That could give you enough information to write a fair assessment of the synthetic track drainage issue, instead of just offering readers your sarcastic laughter.

22 Jan 2010 1:35 PM
Steve

Racing is on the way out.  I say that as a fan, handicapper, and bettor with almost 50 years in the game.  Dirt or synthetic, it doesn't make a difference -- except to the horses, of course, who get paid a lot of lip service but don't really count.  See where dog racing has gone?  Horse racing is next out the door.  As an aside, how do you think a dirt track would have performed this week at Santa Anita?

22 Jan 2010 2:00 PM
jmewill

YEAH DIRT!!!! FAIRPLEX IS AN EXCELLENT TRACK BECAUSE IT IS MAINTAINED PROPERLY AND NO ONE MESSES WITH IT TO TWEAK IT FOR CERTAIN TRAINERS, ALOT OF THAT WENT ON AT SANTA ANITA BEFORE THE SYNTHETIC NIGHTMARE!  PUT THE DIRT BACK IN AND MAINTAIN IT PROPERLY, AND AS FOR THE FAKE TRACKS, IT DIDN'T STOP THE BREAKDOWNS, JUST CHANGED ENDS, HOW MANY HORSES HAVE BROKEN DOWN BEHIND AT HOLLYWOOD? ALOT MORE THAN WHEN IT WAS DIRT! CHRB HAVE SOME TESTICLES AND ADMIT THIS WAS A BAD EXEPERIMENT AND IT DIDN'T WORK, WELCOME HOME GOOD OLD DIRT!!!!!

22 Jan 2010 3:26 PM
Householder

Del Mar had 6 breakdowns in 10 days (which inlcuded opening week). Bejarano missed the entire meet due to facial injuries.  So I would not suggest installing this.

22 Jan 2010 3:40 PM
Mark

People who are upset that they are going back to dirt, synthetic is bad on the horses rear legs. Just think about it.

22 Jan 2010 4:47 PM
JBRacing

If I remember correctly the main problem with the main tracks at Del Mar and Santa Ana were the base of both which hadn't been reverbished in close to 30 years, not the dirt surface.

22 Jan 2010 5:24 PM
Deborah

Oh, just made a misspeak!  Did not mean to insult turf horses; was only referring to dirt vs. synthetic.  Turf is another issue; nothing wrong with horese that excell on grass!  Sorry for the poorly explained comment.

Deborah

22 Jan 2010 7:00 PM
tvnewsbadge

Bobby said

"why not spend the money developing and installing a world class dirt track that is safe for horses?.. "

Because many tracks don't want to *spend the money*.

That's the key. it's not that dirt can't be made safer. It's that far too many tracks have no desire to make it so and the dirt proponents don't put any pressure on them to do so.

22 Jan 2010 8:57 PM
Scanlon

Tapeta footings and Dickinson are the answer.  I'm waiting for a reporter to interview him as to what he can do to fix things.  I'm sure he can fix the problem. I agree the problem is the base, but why put pro-ride back down.  Dirt is not an option.  golden gate seems to love it and it would make handicapping the shipped horse a little easier.

22 Jan 2010 9:03 PM
Brian

Ask Ruffian what she thinks of “dirt”.

Humpty Dumpty crumbles into pieces:

www.youtube.com/watch

Good Ole American dirt = A “special” surface

-----------------------------------

Watch how Bayakoa stays “glued” to Go For Wand’s throatlatch through some punishing fractions.

Finally...Go for Wand wants no more of Bayakoa and caves in just past the 1/16 pole on Belmont Park’s “dirt" surface:

www.youtube.com/watch

-----------------------------------

I like sealed (hard) racetracks. I also like sore shins on my 2yr olds. Who cares about my young 3yr olds and injuries before the Kentucky Derby.

22 Jan 2010 10:16 PM
weekendstorm

I'd like to suggest that we go WAY back.  I'm thinking the Byerley Turk, Godolphin Arabian, and Darley Arabian (great-great-grandsire of Eclipse).  Now, these three must have raced on sand, right?  Eclipse raced on turf. Horses have been bred to run on a natural surface, wherever that may be, since day one. In my humble opinion, we don't need to mess with that now.  

23 Jan 2010 2:14 AM
BELLWETHER

Andrew A. MY MAN U NOE THE DEAL!!!...& SOE DO I!!!...LONG LIVE THE DIRT!!!...

23 Jan 2010 4:13 AM
BELLWETHER

ps...THERE R A TON OF GREAT DIRT TRACKS N AMERCIA...TRY BETTER INSPECTION OF THE HORSES BEFORE THEY GET N THE STARTING GATE...INJURY IS LIFE N SPORTS.  THANK U...LONG LIVE THE KING BABY!!!...

23 Jan 2010 4:18 AM
Richard_R

Dirt is no panacea for Santa Anita.  There is some fundamental problem with sub-surface drainage at that track that has been present long before synthetics were installed.  People either have poor or convenient memories when it comes to Santa Anita's ability to handle large amounts of rain over the years. Golden Gate gets twice as much rain as Santa Anita and they don't have drainage problems and cancelled race days due to it.  Yet, back when GG had a dirt track, rain often washed away the cushion and caused cancellations until they got the water off the track and the cushion rebuilt.  There are too many successful implementations of synthetic surfaces for racing to continue to eschew them as the reason for Santa Anita's problems.

23 Jan 2010 4:32 AM
Stan

Bill Daly, you're right on. Synthetics will be part of racing going forward. Adapt. Sure horses will always favor one surface over another, wake up and handicap. Owners and train run your horses, when they're fit on any surface and compete. No has to be 100% correct here as no one is.

23 Jan 2010 8:37 AM
Chalkk

U of Cal Davis study showed that the G-force of a horse's hoof in full stride on polytrack was 57% of what a horse's G-force was on dirt. I'm not a scientist but even I can deduce less stress per square inch on that little hoof means less stress on bone. BTW, G-force on a average jet fighter pilot=8. G-force on a thoroughbred in full stride=100. Think about it!

23 Jan 2010 9:37 AM
trackman

As a trackman, I have some insights that may be informative.  First of all, one should be aware of what makes a up a synthetic track surface (cushion) material.  It is primarily (on a weight basis) sand (~75%-80%) synthetic fibers/rubber (~15%) and wax/polymer binder (5% - 12%).  

About the synthetic at Santa Anita:

The surface first went in as Cushiontrack which has a wax binder.  Hollywood Park is also Cushiontrack.  SA's Cushiontrack differs from Hollywood in that it uses a different sand (which was finer sand while also having silt+Clay) and the wax binder was of a different formulation.  The wax formulation difference was supposedly to make the surface more consistent over a broader heat range but ultimately this new wax did not have the binding capacity of the formulations used as at Hollywood and Golden Gate.  The ability for greater binding capacity was needed even more at SA due to the poor selection of sand.  To be clear... these material selections were all vendor decisions of a "Proprietary System".  SA did not make these decisions but ultimately was forced to deal with the consequences.

When the Cushiontrack did not perform, SA had to deal with the situation in order to salvage their racing.  They tried many things to fix the issues but ultimately they removed some of the old surace brought in additional sand (clean sand) added more fibers and then more binder.  This time they chose to utilize Proride binder (a non-wax polymer).  This has worked for a time but these binders breakdown over time and loose effectiveness.

So, SA is left with a decision to continue with maintaining the track with binder additions or replacing the track with a more traditional (primarily sand) "dirt" track.  Due to other issues with the original Cushiontrack construction (such as poor selection of drainage stone, ineffective draintile design/install), it is understandable why SA would chose to go back with a time-proven, known, racing surface.... traditional dirt track.

So, certainly SA has paid their dues in this synthetic track "experiment".  It should be up to the proprietor to research, trial, and prove their system beforehand and not have the customer be a "victim" of poor R&D.  And, believe me that there are certainly significant issues (although less dramatic than SA's)with the synthetic surfaces at Del Mar, Hollywood and Golden Gate!

Certainly there continues to be a need for those involved in the development and maintenance of racing surface to have a proactive approach.

23 Jan 2010 10:03 AM
Ohio Bred Girl

To Mr. Rullo's comment, I would say that what might have been seen as "brilliance" on California's old dirt tracks was merely a law of physics; i.e., a ball rebounds faster off a hard surface than off a soft one, and horses, even those legitimately fast, would therefore seem faster than they really were.

23 Jan 2010 11:43 AM
mike rullo

ohio bred girl,

here is what in trying to say,horses like vale of york and dancing in silks would never win a breeders cup race on dirt,we are making grade I winners that dont deserve to be. ravens pass beating curlin on a dirt surface please!!!

that's why jess jackson did not send rachel and obviously he was right.

23 Jan 2010 1:52 PM
Christine

I really hope Arlington has thought about making the move back to dirt to.

23 Jan 2010 9:11 PM
mo

Obviously the artificial surfaces have not been the end all we had hoped for.  The problem is that these tracks were installed based on the opinion of someone making money on the purchase of there product and not on concrete research.  There were no actual studies done with race horses to determine how these tracks held up to daily training and racing, how to maintain them, and did they truely decrease break down.  Many, Many things play into the break down rate.  Speed is a huge component of break down.  The faster a horse runs around a turn of any surface the greater the chance of break down.  Just like a car tire.  The tire may be fine for going around a turn at 45 mph but consistantly "blow out" at 60 mph on the same turn and surface.  In the last 15 to 20 years, the two year old training sales exploded in popularity with the first sales starting in Feb of a two year olds life.  2yr olds went from working 1/8 in 11 seconds to working 1/8 in sub 10 second times.  They went from working a 1/4 in 22 n change to working in sub 20 seconds.  These colts start getting broke in Sept of their yearling years so they can work those crippling fast times in Feb, March and April of their two year old year.  Then they go straight to the track from the sale to "pay back" their purchase price.  Is their any wonder that we have a high break down rate on any surface?  It is not just " break downs' but large numbers of horses that have to be retired do to soft tissue injures (ligaments and tendons).  Many of the Veterinarians I know that work the tracks say that Dirt tracks have higher bone injuries and that the Artificial tracks have a much higher incident of soft tissue injuries.  From an economical stand point, the soft tissue injuries are a greater economic loss to the industry.  If a horse chips his knee or fetlock, he is out for about 3 months after surgery before returning to training.  For a ligament or tendon injury, the horse is out of training for an average of 9 months and most ligament injuries never return to the races.  At present, if a dirt track is too deep, too slow, too fast, or uneven, most maintenace crews know how to fix the problem.  When their is a problem with the artificial tracks, very few if anyone knows how to rectify their problems.  One of the issues that has bothered me about the artificial tracks is what happens when a horse or jockey inhales that stuff?  Dirt, due to its weight probably rarely gets down past the pharyngeal area.  Some of the artificial material looks like it came out of the back of a vacuum cleaner and is much less dense than dirt and probably gets past the pharyngeal area and into the trachea.  God knows we have enough breathing issues in our TB racing population with out adding to the problem with a surface that can get down into the lung. I have not seen any one addressing this issue but I feel it is one to consider.  As far as reduced break down, the numbers have not shown much if any of a statistical difference between the two surfaces.  However, don't forget that about the same time as artificial surfaces being mandated for California, they also outlawed toe grabs on shoes.  The trend to out law toe grabs has since spread to most of the tracks in North America and this has definitley helped decrease the break down rate.  There are so many variables involved in break down on race track that it is probably inaccurate to beable to credit one surface over another as the cause of break down.  It has been proven that most injuries at the race track are the results of chronic repetitive injuries (like bending a paper clip back and forth multiple times before it breaks) and they are not a single incident effect.  However, I am sure that one size does not fit all and that some tacks depending on track size, bank of turns, and weather may be safer with dirt surfaces and others will be safer with artificial surfaces.  Reducing break downs and performance limiting as well as performance ending injuries is a multifacited problem and not just one surface or another.  

24 Jan 2010 2:01 AM
Erin

Curlin wasn't prepared to race on synthetic.  You can't pass an Algebra exam by studying Biology. Put Curlin in $5Million stake on a surface he never tried? Why? And why was he FAVORITE? HA!

Dancing In Silks paying $52 in BC Sprint is a reward for players who pay attention.  ALWAYS bet local  horse when he won on the same surface in 1:08.55 in prior start!

Leave the synthetic in place it is good for smart horseplayers.

24 Jan 2010 9:23 AM
Belmont

Read the facts about synthetic surfaces in California:

This data (below) has been compiled by California Equine Medical Director Dr. Rick M. Arthur and by the Equibase Company.

Main track racing fatalities at Del Mar declined from 2.47 per 1,000 starts on the dirt surface from 2004-2006 to 1.65 per 1,000 on Polytrack from 2007-2009.

Main track racing fatalities for major California tracks — Santa Anita/Oak Tree, Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows — went from 3.09 per 1,000 starts on dirt from 2004-07 to 1.68 per thousand starts on engineered surfaces from 2007-09.

Del Mar has seen reductions in “career ending did not finish,” “annual did not finish” and “annual reported post-race injuries” since the switch to Polytrack.

24 Jan 2010 1:28 PM
Dawn

I think that a well-maintained dirt track is what's needed and for the love of Pete, don't soup it up on stakes days to create new records! That said, it looks like that not all synth tracks are created equal--people have mentioned other synthetic tracks (Arlington etc) and I haven't heard of any particular problems with them. I know that the training track at Fair Hill, up in Cecil County MD, is Tapeta. For those who're wondering where the heck I'm talking about, it's where Michael Matz preps his horses.  So what's it like running on the synth stuff on a hot day? I'm thinking it's like stepping on discarded gum.

Trackman, what's the consistency of the plastic stuff? Seeing it on TV reminds me of the clumping style of cat litter. I imagine picking up a handful of track and being able to ball it up.

24 Jan 2010 3:07 PM
Steve

Belmont, the reality is that preventing catastrophic injuries to horses is not a priority to the average horseplayer or racetrack.  Horseplayers are far more interested in "predictable pace scenarios" and "recognizable track biases" than safe surfaces.  Tracks are more interested in minimizing costs than preventing equine injuries.  

24 Jan 2010 3:51 PM
robinm

I think that the tracks in the east switched from dirt to synthetic in order to have a "fast" track even in bad weather.  On the other hand, the major Ca tracks have been switched to synthetics due to the "safety" mandate, without any real proof that it will decrease track injuries.  From what I've heard, we are seeing different types of injuries, but not necessarily less. Synthetic surface tracks seem to suit grass type horses better than dirt horses so (to me) the racing at the Ca tracks, both "dirt" and grass, handicap like grass races.

I don't think Churchill Downs, Pimlico or Belmont will ever change to synthetic so the young horses prepping in Ca are at a real disadvantage in the Triple Crown races.  I think the Breeder's Cup races should be dirt or grass, not synthetic or grass.  The "dirt" mile held on synthetic is patently ridiculous.  Your good dirt horses are not going to participate in the BC if held on a synthetic track, at least not at Santa Anita.  Why should they when SA is not kind to dirt horses?  Until the track is fair to all runners, the BCC is going to be the "championships" in name only.  Maybe there should be 3 divisions, Dirt, Grass and Synthetic?

24 Jan 2010 11:15 PM
Chalkk

Polytrack is 80% sand so a lot of the kickback you see is sand particulate(giving a sort of dust cloud look). The synthetic fibers are too large to ingest/inhale. I'm told though that the bigger kickback can be quite painful and the sand dust is difficult to see thru. Obviously synthetic tracks are not the panacea some thought but they have their place.

The group that seems to be the most shrill against poly are the handicappers. Most cappers are a lazy lot...only willing to spend a few moments on a race before choosing a loser, then complaining about how they got beat. Synthetic tracks require more attention but can also be more rewarding. Invest the time and you'll see the RE$ULT$!

24 Jan 2010 11:41 PM
Fud

Just heard Jack Van Berg speak back here in Omaha - he didn't care for the surface.  Sounds like an expensive proposition for Magna to switch back to dirt.  With their company losing money - will they have the guts to put dirt racing back on?  Another thought will be how much influence will the CA Breeders have - who have imported/bought studs for AW surfaces?

25 Jan 2010 8:17 AM
Dave Johnson

Steve,

Belmont's statistics (above) tell the tale!

You better start thinking differently.

The "ever-lasting" recession is reducing the horse population.

Look around at the sales  (Keeneland, etc). Observe what is going on around you and how this recession is going to suck the life out of the breeding industry for the next decade.

Horses are going to stay on the track longer and breeding is going to take a back seat in these tough times.

We currently need surfaces that keep horses on the racetrack. Catastrophic injuries are the last thing we need in these economic conditions.

25 Jan 2010 12:21 PM
Shiori

I've never thought synthetics were "The Answer" (please note the quotation marks) everyone thought/thinks they are. And by "everyone," I mean those in the know - trainers, vets, responsible owners - and the everyday casual racing fan.

Racing needs to, in essence, "keep it natural." Go back to dirt and ditch te drugs. Any smart vet would tell you that the only way to build bone and prevent horrendous fractures would be to use it.

25 Jan 2010 12:40 PM
Bosstefka

As an installer of synthetic turf fields it is paramount that the subsurface drainage system and base be installed as specified. I spoke with members of the Santa Anita maintenance crew wherein they indicated that Santa Anita installed the sub surface drainage system themselves. Ah-hah, therein lies the root of the problem and if they don't install it properly, the dirt surface will fail too. We had a contractor that tried to reduce the number of laterals...we wouldn't allow it. He also tried to use incorrect subsurface rock base. We had him remove it and install the appropriate base. Again, if the appropriate subsurface drainage system and base are't installed properly, NOTHING will work. You can't skimp to save money....it catches up to you in the end.

25 Jan 2010 1:08 PM
Terry

First of all, all synthetic surfaces aren't the same. Just like carpet, there are different formulations. A hand made wool rug and a cheap indoor-outdoor rug are as different as can be, except both are "rugs". The same is true of synthetic tracks. Over time it may become apparent that certain synthetic formulations work better than others under varying conditions.

Woodbine has Polytrack. After some initial adjustments, it has worked very well, and the track is always fast regardless of the weather. Some horses even race barefoot on it. Races don't get cancelled ecause of an unsafe track, and horses don't slip and slide on it in wet weather.

However, a synthetic  track that works well in southern Ontario, where temperatures during the racing season can go from below freezing to 100 degrees F., may not work equally well in the desert or in a very humid climate. Maybe Santa Anita simply chose the wrong type of synthetic surface for its climate.

25 Jan 2010 9:49 PM
gw_bushwacker

SA finally got it right. So long "fake crap"!!!!

26 Jan 2010 11:29 AM
Michael J Walter IV

The last 2 breeders' cups were the safest ever. Synthetics are a work in progress, but worth the effort. Do you forget the blood bath that was California racing? It will return to rock hard surfaces and the death of countless runners. 

27 Jan 2010 12:20 PM
Arkansas

Perhaps someone should consult with Oaklawn and how it is they manage such an outstanding dirt racing surface in spite of weather extremes.

28 Jan 2010 4:03 PM
ernest

There is an excellent and BALANCED article on synthetic vs dirt on the TDN website entitled 'Ground Control'.

1) CURLIN wasn't the same horse in BC 08,as he had been earlier in his career...perhaps because he wasnt getting anabolic steroids, after their ban in early 08.I was there, and he wasn't the same physical specimen as he had been in Dubai 6 mths earlier.His form going into BC 08 was ordinary at best.

2) The hind end injury argument is laughable... those who claim it is a problem, are still shoeing their horse with toe grabs behind...Why? 'Because thats the way we like it'.

Synthetic doesn't shift,so there is no need for toe grabs.

3)There have been 26 Breeders Cups..only at 2 were there no horses vanned off the track...08 and 09.Anyone remember Monmouth?They spent a fortune on their surface just before BC 07....AND LOOK WHAT HAPPENED.It wouldnt have happened at Woodbine.

07 Feb 2010 5:42 AM
nmhiplains

Everybody's looking for the magic pill that will solve the BREAKDOWN issue but nobody wants to admit that racehorses just don't get the conditioning they did during the years of the great trainers Preston Burch and Max Hirsh.  Its easier to blame it on track surface and poor conformation (Gentics) than admit there's not enough exercise riders to condition the amount of horses to fill the number of race cards in todays racing game.

Pump them full of drugs(Bute, Steriods, Lassix and ignore the fact that these animals get less than eight miles of training a WEEK. I"ll bet you LEXINGTON's owner galloped him eight miles to the tavern and eight miles back home to the plantation every day.

What a shock it will be to the Thoroughbred World if we find out one of the prominent STUDS of today carry's the bleeder gene --and because every horse racing on the track is pumped full of Lassix its not discovered until

every foal hitting the ground is carrying the gene!!!

19 Mar 2010 9:16 PM

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