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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Synthetic Stupidity

- More on the non-story about NYRA and synthetic tracks in the NY Post. John Lee confirms what we kinda knew, that they're "not in a position financially to do anything about it." The cost would be around $50 million.

Nick Zito, one of the more vocal opponents of artificial surfaces amongst NY horsemen, said:

"Why spend $50 million on synthetic garbage we know nothing about? Before we rush to judgment again, shouldn't we study how much money it would take to put in safe, state-of-the-art dirt tracks? [NY Post]
I think that it's not constructive, and maybe even irresponsible, for Zito, as the chairman of the National Horse Protection Coalition, to be calling the surfaces "garbage" at this point in time. This is a divisive issue, and I know that some, and perhaps many of you may share his sentiments. But it's my strong opinion that the industry must give these surfaces a full and fair chance. The potential upside - fewer injuries, and a de-emphasis on speed that could very well spur the changes in breeding practices that we all would like to see - are far too great to cast them aside at this early stage. In the end, it's possible that we may just learn that dirt tracks built over newly-built cushions are the best alternative after all; if that's the case, then the experiment will still have proven worthwhile in my opinion.

William C. Rhoden wrote a far more controlled and rational column in the Times yesterday; it seemed almost as if he knew he went way too far on Sunday and was trying to demonstrate that he can be reasonable. However, amongst his suggestions on things the industry should be doing was this:
What about racing surfaces? There are indications, but no conclusive proof, that synthetic surfaces are safer. I suspect, however, that synthetic surfaces are becoming popular not so much to aid the horses, but to keep the surface consistent in order to make racing easier to schedule.
How dare he suggest that the motivation behind the surfaces is a cynical one based on finance and convenience rather than safety? Does he think California and Arlington went into emergency mode "in order to make racing easier to schedule?" I find that to be a despicable suggestion; one that I'd like to see him make to Joe Harper's face. (Or to mine for that matter!)

19 Comments:

Teresa said...

The only part of Zito's comment that I take issue with is his use of the word "garbage," and that's only in the politic sense. In some cases, the stuff is literally garbage (recycled tires??), and I think he's right to emphasize that we know far too little about the synthetics to be rushing to install them.

Not to mention that I wrote today about this very thing...

steve in nc said...

I just want to say thanks for all your work, Alan, the last week -- tremendous. We've been focussed on other things down in NC this week (O-yeah!) but thanks to you, with a few clicks, I am better informed than I ever was before on my troubled favorite game. You are putting not just the Times blog, but the DRF to shame.

I do agree with you about giving synth tracks a chance, but I agree with Zito that idea a modern cushioned dirt track should also not be dismissed without trial.

Zito has always struck me as kind of like Charles Barkley. He can be ignorant and just plain wrong, but he says what he thinks without worrying about the CYA factor. In the age of spin and of paid blowhards shouting out disinformation with faked passion, a little honesty is a kind of nice.

alan said...

steve/teresa - Glad you're here so someone can listen as I beat myself up for not having that Schosberg horse in the third just a day after writing that he's about to break out!! Sometimes I just want to whip myself! What the hell is wrong with me?? :-/

alan said...

Oh yeah, and thanks to you both for your recent kind comments! Now, back to beating myself up....

Anonymous said...

You tell'em Zito!!

Get rid of the garbadge.

Teresa said...

My father knows a guy who has several horses with David Donk, and every time the guy touts a horse to my father, my father has me put the horse in my watch list so that I can let him know the horse is in.

The list has gotten long, and the horses have often lost, and I've kind of gotten out of the habit of letting my father know when one of these horses is in.

Case in point, last Sunday. It's post-Derby, it's Big Brown, it's Eight Belles, I'm not paying attention...and the horse wins and pays $54.50.

You want to talk self-flagellation, not to mention the shit I had to take from my father?

jk said...

More on the never ending investigation of Senator Bruno...


http://tinyurl.com/5dmmzo

Bruno probe focus on ethics opinions

FBI investigation looks at legislative panel's 10-year-old rulings

By BRENDAN J. LYONS, Senior writer

Another opinion Bruno received from the ethics committee was in connection with the senator's ownership of horses and business dealings with his friend, Columbia County veterinarian Jerry Bilinski.

Bilinski is a former chairman of the Racing and Wagering Board, and a principal of Excelsior Racing Associates, which had bid on the franchise to run races at the three NYRA tracks.

Two years ago, Bilinski also received a federal grand jury subpoena related to his horse ownership records as part of the investigation of Bruno.

"I'd never seen anything treated with such importance as that was," said a person who was involved with the ethics committee's work in the Bilinski matter 12 years ago. "It was like a meeting of the war department."

(snipped)

alan said...

JK - Thanks as always! Have a post on the matter that will be up shortly...

El Angelo said...

Buzz Bissinger takes Rhoden's side.

Anonymous said...

Some synth converts are well motivated others not (in my opinion) Turfway and Woodbine not, Arlington and Cali got caught in a breakdown crisis and reached for the only helping hand available (synth salesmen). Without synth around what would they have done??

For whatever reason, I was on an artificial track kick about 7-10 years ago where I wanted to learn as much about them as possible, just out of engineering curiosity. Not much info available at that time, but almost exclusively the A#1 benefit they were selling was less lost days due to weather. I talked to the developers personally on the phone. Since its tough to patent vertical drainage, they started adding waxes to "shed water", then they added some bounciness, etc.etc. Dickinson, because he was training his own, was the first that I saw to start down the "its safer path". (He used to offer to pay for the surgery if a horse he trained got hurt on the surface) Newmarket has for years had an "invalid gallop" which is a concocted surface, so the stretch to safety is a natural direction of inquiry and opportunity.
My personal opinion is that the synth guys quickly saw an easy sales job by dangling the "safer surface for horses" carrot and to their surprise the tracks bought it without real proper soil and civil engineering behind it.(Especially with the breakdown crisis in the news) These guys are small outfits who cooked this stuff up in their basements for the most part. A good thing when you're Jobs and Gates, in new technology, but strikingly high school science fair-ish when done in a mature well known field like soils and civil engineering.
In the long term I think it will shake itsself out and these tracks will either stand up as beneficial on the whole or not. (They likely help)
As I recall Woodbine was looking at synth for consistency not safety originally. (they didn't want to admit that the conventional dirt had a safety problem.) But now of course with safety being such an issue, what do you expect them to say? Here in Toronto they've been on the radio saying they spent 10 million for the safety of horses.... It's lowered breakdowns by 10 horses. A million per horse. If this stuff lasts 10 years at the same rate, it still doesn't make a cost benefit argument. If it's so much better why not swap out the dirt on the training track? Woodbine is on record as being very disappointed with Poly, but now all I hear is how they spent 10 million to save 10 horses... BS....
California is different. They have the right intentions, but they've been oversold as well.
Not supporting Rhoden, I think he's stretching a grain of truth into a whole position paper, but it isn't completely unfounded. (shoddy journalism, yet not completely false)
My two cents...

alan said...

>>My two cents...

Great post, thanks for the insight! So, based on what you wrote, if Rhoden said that the surfaces were introduced with the main intention to make racing easier to schedule, he would have been accurate. Thinking back now to Turfway and the concern over lost winter racing days there, I'd have to agree; at least in that case. But for him to write that they are "becoming popular" for that purpose, I think is 100% inaccurate given the current circumstances; and I think it also unfairly casts the current debate going on over them in a cynical light.

Anonymous said...

When did Nick see the light on animal welfare? Good gosh. His record on breaking down 2-year-olds is atrocious, and some vets at a Kentucky clinic still have some very serious suspicions about what almost killed Strike the Gold.

He can't win on poly, so he doesn't like it.

Anonymous said...

I went into listening to Rhoden with an agenda based on what I've read on the blogs, but to my surprise I've seen him as a listenable proponent of "the other side". For sure, he's a print guy who likes to hear himself talk and goes too far, but I found Beyer not able to really answer some of his points on the NPR piece.
The smartest thing I heard so far was a comment by Toronto journalist Stephen Brunt. He's a boxing guy and in tune with "the fine line". He said basically, if you're going to go down this path you have to have the whole conversation. Picking on racing is cheap thrills. If you really want to talk about this you need a full conversation about animals as food, as science experiments, as breeding for human enjoyment. Basically our place on and pecking order in and with the earth. A big conversation for sure, and one we're not ready or equipped to have. So on we go muddling through.
When Rhoden uses words like animal abuse he's taking the low road, but I haven't binned him a looney like the 4 letter brigade I refuse to promote by saying their name.
When I'm lined up at my gods version of the pearly gates, and they hand out my next incarnation, something in me hopes it doesn't read "Son of Storm Cat, entered into 2YO sale, high hopes for 'fastest at the distance'"


Third cent from two cents ;)

Anonymous said...

The scariest thing about "the conversation" is that this is happening in Race #1. What the hell do we do if Big Brown Barbaro's on us?
God help us all.
Congressional subcommitte or worse...
All this talk seems to me to be collective angst about what could happen in the next few weeks..If this goes south again, racing advocates won't know what hit them...

alan said...

>>What the hell do we do if Big Brown Barbaro's on us? God help us all.


Man, we can all just head for cover at the nearest harness track in that case. Someone needs to tell Kent D that his main priority in life is getting that steed around the track in one piece..

Anonymous said...

>>What the hell do we do if Big Brown Barbaro's on us?

The drug dealers will go underground.

rgustafson said...

Alan,
As I have stated on another board, Zito coming out against synthetic surfaces has as much objectivity as Michael Dickinson coming out for them. As another poster mentioned, Zito would have a hard time winnng a race on a synthetic surface even if his horse was the only entry.

Anonymous said...

What they all can do is install state of the art dirt tracks.

When they renovate a stadium in other sports, the renovate the playing field too.

In racing, they create a "new" Churchill but leave the 50 year old racing surface in place.

NYRA will in all liklihood do the right thing, install the literally correct garbage on the training tracks at the SPA and Belmont while renovating their dirt surfaces.

The Big A is a prime candidate for the synth, with the only question being whethar to install it on the main track and convert the inner back to turf, or install it on the inner and renovate the main.

The Wood on synth makes me gag, but it probably makes sense to go this route.

Anonymous said...

One issue that seems to have fallen by the wayside is the effects on horses and humans (we forget about the two legged animals) from breathing in this garbage.

CAL would not let them install it as manufactured due to enviromental issues of this crap that China is throwing away, but somehow it is considered healthy to breathe by equine and human athletes?