JC / Railbird


An Inconvenient Truth

Nick Nicholson, retiring president of Keeneland:

There is a difference in dirt, turf and synthetic, and the turf and synthetic are safer. We should not as an industry ignore that fact because it’s an inconvenient truth. If you care about riders and you care about horses you have to continue on the journey of safer racing surfaces. This is not subject to the whim of a few people, including me. It’s an industry responsibility. Does that mean we have to continue to make better dirt tracks? Sure. Shame on us that we haven’t done it for 50 years.

Following California’s mandate and the three-year debacle that was Santa Anita’s installation(s) of synthetic(s), the movement toward synthetic surfaces in the United States pretty much came to an end. As a matter for discussion, synthetics are dead. No track has converted in years. Keeneland, which has experienced great success with its Polytrack, dissolved its partnership with the company that made the surface in late 2011, citing market conditions.

What a shame.

Not Synthetic, Engineered

Well, this is interesting. The same week in which the Paulick Report posted the results of a leaked TOBA study that came up strongly pro-synthetics mere hours before the Welfare and Safety Summit kicked off at Keeneland with an analysis of data from the Jockey Club Equine Injury Database on the statistical difference between synthetic and dirt surfaces, a new group has appeared with a slick website and a social media presence to promote synthetics, rebranded “engineered racing surfaces.”

The Engineered Racing Surfaces Coalition:

… believes these surfaces have a viable place in Thoroughbred racing’s future, and is committed to providing accurate and timely information about the benefits of these surfaces.

The coalition is made up of five North American racetracks, all of which have installed Polytrack (credit to Ed DeRosa for noticing that detail).

Notes for 2009-04-16

– Rachel Alexandra turned in a sharp work this morning at Churchill Downs, breezing five furlongs in :59.40 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:11.60. “As usual, she went a little bit faster than I really wanted, but she does it so easy,” said trainer Hal Wiggins, adding the filly would wrap up her prep for the Kentucky Oaks with a work on Monday, April 27. Catching wind of the bullet move, rival Justwhistledixie had this to say on Twitter: “Rumor has it my main competition Rachel Alexandra worked pretty nicely this morning. That’s okay, I get to show my stuff tomorrow morning.” Not only is this year’s 3-year-old crop showing a lot of depth, it’s proving pretty web savvy …

– During last year’s Keeneland spring meet, there was quite a bit chatter about lower handle and fewer favorites winning. What a difference a year makes:

Through April 11, the Polytrack and turf surfaces have been rewarding favorites with a usual share of the winnings. After 67 races, there have been 31.3-percent of the favorites on top, which is only slightly lower than the Thoroughbred racing’s historical 33-percent watermark figure.

Order restored. Maybe the Polytrack isn’t so inscrutable, maybe the stats even out, maybe trainer Dale Romans was onto something when he said last April, “I’m not so sure [betting on Keeneland] would be a problem if it were longer than a two-week meet, so they can get a gauge on who’s running well.” With another year to adjust, seems like bettors now have a better gauge.