Deaths on dirt revive debate about merits of synthetic tracks

Bob Baffert and Midnight Interlude
In spite of an alarming number of fatalities on the new Santa Anita dirt track, leading trainer Bob Baffert gave it a thumbs up after he won the Santa Anita Derby with Midnight Interlude by saying, 'It probably needs to be tweaked a bit, but overall I think it’s been a safe meet.' Safe for who exactly?

The new dirt track at Santa Anita can be a death trap for the horses who train and race on it, and a danger to their jockeys and exercise riders. Why the switch from the somewhat safer synthetic? Times are faster on dirt than synthetic, and it appears the chief reason leading trainer Bob Baffert at least prefers it.

Melissa Hoppert, reporting for the New York Times, in “Deaths on dirt revive debate about merits of synthetic track”, reports:

    A sideways rain pounded the grounds of Keeneland racetrack ahead of the Lexington Stakes, a prep race for last month’s Kentucky Derby. One and a half inches of rain fell overnight, and the synthetic Polytrack surface that was installed in 2006 was virtually free of puddles — a stark contrast to the muddy images splashed across simulcast screens from Aqueduct’s dirt racetrack in New York.

    During the wettest April on record in Lexington (12.70 inches), no racing days were lost and no horses were fatally injured.

    In contrast, the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park, which returned to a dirt surface on its main track after three years of synthetics, had 12 racing and 7 training fatalities on the main track, according to preliminary data compiled by Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board.

    Proponents of synthetics point to these examples, as well as national statistics from the Jockey Club’s equine injury database (2.14 fatalities per 1,000 starts on dirt compared with 1.55 on synthetics and 1.74 on turf over a two-year period), as reasons to continue to make changes. Continue reading >>

In spite of an alarming number of fatalities on the new Santa Anita dirt track, Baffert gave it a thumbs up after he won the Santa Anita Derby with Midnight Interlude by saying, “It probably needs to be tweaked a bit, but overall I think it’s been a safe meet.”

Related Reading:

Santa Anita Fatality Scorecard Gives It a Failing Grade,” Tuesday’s Horse, April 18, 2011

The Safest Surface? There Is an Answer“, by Dr. George Mundy, The Rail, New York Times, May 15, 2008

2 thoughts on “Deaths on dirt revive debate about merits of synthetic tracks”

  1. SAFETY, NOT SPEED, SHOULD BE THE MAIN ISSUE HERE. THE JOCKEYS AND HORSES DESERVE THE SAFEST SURFACE POSSIBLE.

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  2. If it were one of his family dying out there – he would not be so cavalier. He is not God. Every death is a tragedy and an end to the potential for harmony. The horses dying were not born to die out there.

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