JC / Railbird

Track Surfaces

Brockton Delays

The racetrack at Brockton Fair

Planned racing at the Brockton Fair has been pushed back to August:

The property owner and the association both said that more time was needed to budget for administrative costs and to fix the inner rail of the track, which was damaged by a vandal last year who stole about 1,000 feet of the metal barrier to sell for scrap.

“We would have hoped to start a little bit sooner,” said Bill Lagorio, president of the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “We are hoping, with all things considered now, we’ll race in August, September and October. … We don’t mind going a little further into the fall because it’s nice racing weather anyway.”

If a meet at Brockton happens this year, training and racing will take place over four months on the five-furlong dirt track. Lagorio addressed safety concerns raised by observers about that plan:

Lagorio also responded to criticism of the track, which he said is mostly being leveled by a rival horse racing association that is participating in the six races at Suffolk Downs this year. Lagorio said that some people unfairly point to the injury of one horse when racing last took place at the Brockton Fairgrounds in 2001, but he said the sport inherently has its risks.

“There’s nothing not safe about Brockton,” Lagorio said.

Count me among the worried, and not because of anything that happened 15 years ago. Thanks to greater attention on safety issues, ongoing research, and the Equine Injury Database, we now know more about track surfaces, injuries, and risks than we did a decade ago. We know that dirt tracks consistently register more fatalities than turf or synthetic tracks, averaging 2.07 fatalities per 1000 starts from 2009-2014, compared to 1.65 for turf and 1.22 for synthetics. Over the same six years, races at distances less than six furlongs averaged 2.25 fatalities per 1000 starts, compared to 1.82 for races six to eight furlongs, and 1.74 for races longer than eight furlongs.

The work of Dr. Mick Peterson has yielded clues into how track maintenance and moisture content affects safety. Dr. Tim Parkin, studying the EID, has identified factors that may make a horse more vulnerable to fatal injury, including past injury, time between starts, drops in claiming price, and age.

For what Dr. Parkin’s work means in practice when it comes to a vulnerable horse population, read Dr. Jennifer Durenberger’s Thoroughbred Racing Commentary piece about reducing the fatality rate at Suffolk Downs in 2014:

Let’s look first at the catastrophic injury rate for the meet: 1.24 per thousand starts. This is down from 1.73 in 2013 — a nearly 30 percent reduction. While I maintain that this particular metric tells only a small part of a much bigger story about the job we do protecting the overall safety and welfare of our equine athletes, it’s still the easiest number for us as an industry to obtain and compare across jurisdictions — both major league and minor league. Thanks to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database (EID), which captures data from an amazing 93 percent of all flat racing days, we know that the average catastrophic injury rate in 2013 was 1.9 per thousand starts. That includes all horses – young and old, graded stakes competitors and seasoned claimers, sprinters and routers, turf specialists and mudders. When we separate that by surface, we see a nationwide average of 1.63 catastrophic injuries per thousand turf starters and 2.08 per thousand dirt starters. At Suffolk Downs in 2014, the turf rate was 1.44 and the dirt rate was 1.20 – less than 60 percent of the national average.

Thanks to some of Dr. Tim Parkin’s comprehensive epidemiological analysis of five years of EID data, we know that there are certain risk factors associated with catastrophic injury. Nine have been identified with statistical significance, including older horses, horses making “numerous starts within the past 1-6 months,” and horses entered in claiming races for a tag less than $25,000. It’s no secret that the vast majority of horses competing at Suffolk Downs fit squarely within this profile. For years, Suffolk has welcomed equine athletes in the later stages of their careers and helped transition them once the race was over. Our catastrophic injury rate was achieved amongst a population of some of the highest-risk horses in the country — competing for some of the lowest purses in the country.

High-risk horses competing for small purses — that’ll be racing at Brockton.

And those horses will be training and racing on a bullring that’s five furlongs with a chute. Last month, at the Grayson-Jockey Club Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, Dr. Peterson addressed an issue that should interest anyone considering running at Brockton — what are the musculoskeletal effects of turning? You can watch the archived video of his presentation — it’s less than 20 minutes long, and begins at approximately 1:12. The upshot — turning is stressful, and more so on dirt surfaces, due to their variability. He raises a provocative question — “Do traction limited horses [as those running on dirt may be] have a certain number of allowable turning strides?”

The causes of racing injuries are complex, and safety can never be absolute — but the conditions that horses will be asked to race under at Brockton, and the kind of horses who will be entered to race, are higher risk.

One last thing — Brockton, as a condition of the racing license approved by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission last fall, only has to make a good faith effort to earn NTRA Safety Alliance accreditation.

Horses first, says the Massachusetts racing office. For all involved, racing at Brockton will put that motto to the test.

7/19/16 Update: The Brockton request for Race Horse Development Fund money for purses is back on the agenda for the July 21 MGC meeting.

The Synth Difference

Matt Hegarty reporting from the Racehorse Welfare and Safety Summit:

The latest analysis of the data also continued to show a statistically significant difference between the rate of catastrophic injuries on artificial surfaces when compared with dirt surfaces and turf surfaces. Over the past three years, horses running on synthetic surfaces have suffered catastrophic injuries at a rate of 1.3 per 1,000 starts, whereas horses running on turf had a 1.6 rate and dirt horses had a 2.0 rate, slightly higher than the overall rate of 1.9, according to researchers.

We can’t keep ignoring the facts: Synthetic surfaces are safer. Any serious discussion about or initiative for reducing fatalities must include synthetics.

Odds and Ends

Is Wise Dan the best American horse in training? Sure, why not. He’s certainly one of the most versatile and interesting. You could call him freaky.

And this is a year in which there are several very good elite horses, but no standouts running historic campaigns.

The message is not that “the all-weather is a messy sandpit of intrigue and skulduggery,” but that the BHA is watching.

At Keeneland, all-weather means full fields. For the first three days of this October’s meet, the average field size is 10.8 (on both surfaces).

Of course, connections have many reasons to run at Keeneland. It’s competitive, and it draws a great crowd — that devours 6,000 pounds of bread pudding with 50 gallons of bourbon sauce per week.

[C]alls for medication transparency are not going away.” And they shouldn’t.

Racing’s economic indicators: Things are looking up.

Weekly IHA update: He’s not drowsy, like the other stallions.

Unfair

Mike Watchmaker on the Super Saturday Santa Anita main track bias:

Look, horses like Game On Dude and Executiveprivilege were probably going to win Saturday whether or not there was a bias, so I don’t think they should be penalized for riding the crest of the way the track was playing. I am less convinced about Love and Pride and Power Broker. But I do know that the way the track was playing, well bet closers such as Richard’s Kid, Include Me Out, Amani, and Capo Bastone had absolutely zero chance. And that’s not fair.

Come the Breeders’ Cup, will we have reason to miss the Santa Anita synthetic?

Dan and the Man

With his win in the Woodbine Mile, Wise Dan has now won Grade 1 races on dirt and turf. If he can add a G1 win on synthetic (over which he’s already won a G2), he’ll join Lava Man as only the second horse to win Grade 1 races on all three surfaces. Getting the synthetic win might be tough — there aren’t many options on the calendar, and trainer Charles Lopresti plans to start his versatile gelding next in the Breeders’ Cup Mile — but maybe Wise Dan will find his way west for a synthetic surface G1 in 2013.

Superterrific and I have been talking about dusting off Omnisurface Stars — Wise Dan might be just the nudge to make that happen.

If you’re interested in more current stakes winners across surfaces, see Matt Gardner’s spreadsheet on SB Nation.

9/17/12 Addendum: “A versatile horse in today’s age.” Heck, yeah.

Odds and Ends

IHA lives a life of comfort.” The Kentucky Derby winner at Big Red Farm (via).

Azeri, Ginger Punch, Lethal Heat, Moscow Burning, Stardom Bound … Kate Hunter on the Yoshida brothers’ starry broodmare band (PDF).

But the horse will tell us what he wants to do. “It’s an absolute crock. Frankel has been saying all year I can do what YOU want me to” (via).

It’s not about the surface. What Dullahan really wants is distance. Given his one-run style, this makes sense. It doesn’t raise his prospects in any of the three Breeders’ Cup races he might enter, though.

East vs. West, Sid Fernando, March 2012: “… it’s striking that even cheaper dirt tracks in the East have lower overall rates than most anything out West.” Hm.

Poly-Dully

Dullahan has three wins in 12 starts, all in Grade 1 races, and all on Polytrack. It’s enough to conclude that the 2012 Pacific Classic winner is a Poly-monster. But, looking at recent photos of the burly Dale Romans trainee, I’m not so sure that Dullahan hasn’t just matured into an omni-monster, effective on any track surface. At this stage of his career, which includes in-the-money finishes in turf and dirt stakes, why pigeonhole him?

Addendum: Jennie Rees has a story up about Romans’ stellar year, in which she asks him whether Dullahan is a Poly-specialist: “Yeah … [b]ut that doesn’t mean he can’t do other things … his form definitely moves up on Polytrack. But he can compete on other surfaces. I still believe he can at a high level. How high, I’m not sure.” Very interesting. If Dullahan stays sound through his 4-year-old season, it should be fun to find out.

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