In addition to the commerce being conducted in and around the sale grounds at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland in Central Kentucky this week, industry players are still shaking their heads in disbelief over the results of the Nov. 1-2 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park where the ill-fated Mongolian Groom later lost his life after breaking down in the stretch of the Longines Classic (G1), the last of 14 World Championships races.
As discussed a week ago, the plans set in place by Breeders’ Cup and Santa Anita’s owners The Stronach Group were designed for safety, and in that sense, proved successful. However, with 30 vets prowling the backstretch for the two days of racing, those same plans and protocols are clearly unaffordable and unsustainable on a day-to-day basis at any racing facility…so what to do?
With a laundry list of things that should be done, we offer up a starter kit of items that should have been addressed yesterday.
First, after reading Frank Angst’s piece “Study Finds Phenylbutazone a Risk Factor in Breakdowns,” in which Dr. Tim Parkin says, “horses racing with bute (phenylbutazone) in their systems are 50% more likely to sustain a fatal or nonfatal musculoskeletal injury than those racing without a recent administration of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory,” the need to get all states in line with protocols and restrictions set by the National Uniform Medication Program’s list of controlled therapeutic substances seems paramount.
It’s time to get over this lack of uniformity from state to state. It’s confusing to horsemen and even more confusing for those outside the sport peering in. The study’s results, based on data from more than 500,000 starts at four tracks in South America—along with varying restrictions in racing states—show how vital the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 is in order to create a uniform national standard for drug testing.
To reemphasize, the legislation would “create a set of nationwide rules that are clear, consistent, and conflict-free. This will make horse racing safer for our equine athletes and jockeys while increasing confidence in the sport among trainers, owners, horseplayers, and horse racing fans alike.”
Second, racing needs to reexamine increased use of synthetic surfaces. The numbers from The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database don’t lie. While many trainers and a whole lot of horseplayers might not prefer synthetic surfaces, they have proved to be much safer than traditional dirt surfaces. In 2018 the rate of fatal injuries on synthetic surfaces in North America was 1.23 per 1,000 starts, compared with 1.10 in 2017. The dirt figures were 1.86 for 2018 and 1.74 in 2017.
Synthetic surfaces have come a long way since they were installed at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky in 2005, and in Southern California, by mandate, in 2007. Santa Anita removed its Pro-Ride surface in the fall of 2010.
Anecdotally, synthetic surfaces seem to do best in cooler climates such as Kentucky, Canada (Woodbine installed Polytrack in 2006 and replaced it with Tapeta in 2016), and Europe, where they are quite popular.
Advances in technology have changed all of our lives over the last 15 years, and the same can be said for advancements in synthetic surfaces. It’s time to reexamine the issue.
Thirdly, there has been much conversation about a “unified message,” and who that messenger might be.
Racing continues to take a beating in the general press. Just before the Breeders’ Cup, USA Today gave us “Horses go from racetracks to slaughterhouses: ‘It’s just a job to me,’ ” about the slaughter issue and “Horse racing deaths: Billions in subsidies as deaths climb” on tax incentives and casino subsidies delivered to racing.
These articles and many others have extensive facts, figures, and quotes from anti-racing sources but rarely offer any balance from the racing industry itself.
Among the many leading groups out there, can’t some positive racing numbers, talking points, and friendly faces be put together and continually spoon-fed to the major media outlets?
The need for honest facts and a few counter punches...along with continued scrunity of our issues within the industry, will help carry the load.