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Monday, January 07, 2008

Sticking With Synthetics For Now

- Reader Green Mtn Punter writes:

So glad NYRA didn't rush into synthetic surfaces, aren't you Alan? More and more it appears that too many tracks were sold a bill of goods by the snake oil salesmen.
I agree that New York has done the right thing; there was no pressing reason to rush into it here. I think California was well-intentioned, but it certainly appears as if it would have been wiser to take a more cautious approach.

A few readers have also brought up the question of whether reduced injuries are due mainly to the new track bases that are being installed underneath the artificial surfaces. And it does seem as if breakdowns have increased after the first years of use.

However, and despite the drainage problems at Santa Anita, I'm not ready to give up on synthetic tracks just yet. It may very well turn out that, in the long run, the surface does not by itself reduce the risk of injury. But still, assuming that drainage problems like Santa Anita's and aberrant biases like that at Keeneland are addressed, we would still benefit greatly from artificial surfaces if only just from the elimination for once and for all of sloppy racetracks. [That's perhaps a strange discussion to be having considering what's happened this week; but that freakish rainfall would probably have nixed racing on a dirt surface anyway, as it did at Los Alamitos. Racing has continued despite heavy rain at Golden Gate (whose Tapeta surface, Illman's stats the other day notwithstanding, is still getting only good reviews from what I'm seeing), and a Hollywood Park spokesperson told the Form that his track "could have run racing here any of the last three days."] Is there anyone who wants to see a repeat of last year's Breeders' Cup?

The elimination of dominant speed biases is another good reason to keep these tracks around in my opinion, and horses are still widely reported to be fitter from training and racing over the surfaces.

Green Mtn Punter continues: Let's start by improving the breed, as the mission used to be, and forget these ridiculous band-aids. A noble mission it is indeed, but I don't think there's been any incentive to improve the breed. Breeders have not been penalized for producing fragile horses; owners are just racing them less, retiring them earlier, and cashing in big time themselves if they're lucky enough to have a stud prospect. Synthetic tracks, in my view, may prove to be that incentive by de-emphasizing raw speed in favor of stamina. Already there have been indications of some subtle shifts based on comments by breeders I've read. In the long run, a stouter breed presumably means sounder horses and less catastrophes on the track; and thus the synthetic tracks could eventually achieve its goal of less breakdowns in that indirect fashion, even if the surfaces themselves are unable to do it alone.


Unknown said...

I agree with your statement but I do think synthetics have worked in a couple of places such as Arlington Park, Hollywood Park, Woodbine, and I could even argue Keeneland to some degree.

But yes I agree the NYRA was smart in not pulling the trigger so quickly.

steve in nc said...

Given it's financial situation and political uncertainty, I don't think NYRA was able to even consider re-doing it's track surface(s).

The AQ main track needs a new/restored base big time, whether topped with dirt or plastic polymers. If the pols decide that AQ can keep racing, I'm assuming that'll be a top priority and it will be interesting to see whether NYRA (or, I guess, it's successor) sticks with dirt or not.

Is it just my skewed memory, or are there fewer catastrophic breakdowns on the AQ dirt? I've seen a couple of bad inner track / gloomy main days, but most of the horrors I recall in NY are at Belmont. I still remember Ruffian suddently disappearing from my binocs, and I taped my Go For Wand over Paseana exacta ticket on the wall over my desk for years. I still shudder to think of those races.

Anonymous said...

Horsmen have told me that the inner track is the best surface in NY.

The AQ outer used to be very good, but the base is now shot and needs to be remade from scratch.

Belmont and SPA are still ok.

The Belmont training track was better this year but will likely be converted to some artificial surface to allow for better training in winter for all horses and in summer for the turf specialists.

The turf courses, often ignored, could also use improvmement with modern drainage systems.

Anonymous said...

I think you're right that synthetics still need to be studied and that they have definitely improved racing at places like Arlington, Turfway Park, and Golden Gate. However, it's shocking that companies would spend millions of dollars without more investigation especially looking at other non wax based synthetics (Cushion Track, Tapeta, and Polytrack all are wax based). Racing outfits are hurting financially to begin with so to spend so much money and not have a product that works is really tough.

Anonymous said...

Have you checked the web site Apparently they had a track (Gosford Racecourse in Australia I believe)which got 2 inches of rain one night and they were galloping on it the next morning! I understand that they also have a track in Kentucky which is still being galloped on when all the other tracks have been closed due to cold weather!