JC / Railbird

Synthetic Surfaces


Nick Kling pushes back on the Blue-Grass-is-irrelevant crowd:

Strike the Gold (1991) was the last Blue Grass winner to go on and repeat in the Kentucky Derby. None of the next fifteen dirt or six Polytrack winners went on to Derby success.

Two Derby winners came out of those final fifteen Blue Grass Stakes run on dirt. Sea Hero (1993) and Thunder Gulch (1995) finished out of the money at Keeneland, perhaps victimized by the speed bias, before going on to Derby glory.

Polytrack runnings of the Blue Grass have been similar. Street Sense was narrowly-beaten in that 2007 Blue Grass, then went on to dominate the Kentucky Derby. Since then the Derby winner has come from other venues and Blue Grass graduates have not been a factor.

Matt Gardner, looking at Blue Grass results in the Polytrack era, found that “the top 3 finishers in the Blue Grass are 13-1-0-2 in the Derby since 2007.”

Compare that to the Santa Anita Derby over the same years: The top three Santa Anita Derby finishers are 13-1-1-0 since 2007. Or the Florida Derby: 9-1-1-0. If there’s an irrelevant Kentucky Derby prep lately, it’s the Wood: The top three finishers out of Aqueduct are 10-0-0-0 since 2007.

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.

The Rule Breaker

The latest example of why the rules don’t matter: Animal Kingdom. Although Team Valor’s Kentucky Derby winning colt did run as a 2-year-old, he was only the second to win with four or fewer career starts, and he was the first since Needles in 1956 to win off a six-week layoff. He’s the fifth straight Derby winner to prep with only two starts as a 3-year-old, neither a Grade 1, and his Beyer speed figure of 103 is the lowest since Giacomo was given 100 in 2005. Animal Kingdom was also making his first start on dirt in the Kentucky Derby, coming off a win in the Spiral Stakes over the Polytrack at Turfway. I’ve argued here before, sometimes with stats, that synthetic surface-prepped horses are viable Derby contenders. Next year, such horses shouldn’t be throw-outs for anyone on the basis of surface.

Some photos from Saturday at Churchill …

Mucho Macho Man leaving the barn for the Derby.

Cheering for the Derby starters as they exit the gap.

Midnight Interlude and Shackleford waiting to begin the walk over.

The clubhouse crowd.

Animal Kingdom in the post parade.

Dialed In, the 5-1 favorite, after finishing eighth in the Derby.

Steve Asmussen and Corey Nakatani discussing Nehro’s second-place finish.

Animal Kingdom heading to the winner’s circle.

Statistically Significant

With two years of data in the Equine Injury Database, the Jockey Club is out today with updated fatality rates. The overall rate declined to 2.0 per 1000 starts from the 2.04 reported earlier this year. By surface, the rates are 2.14 on dirt (unchanged), 1.74 on turf, and 1.55 on synthetics (down from 1.78):

Parkin noted that the change in the overall fatality rate stemmed from cumulative two-year data that revealed a statistically significant difference in the prevalence of fatality on both turf and synthetic surfaces versus dirt. The difference in the prevalence of fatality between synthetic and turf surfaces was not statistically significant.

Confirms the impression that synthetic surfaces are safer (although the usual caveats apply re: uncertainty of factors such as new track bases, improved vet checks, anecdotal reports of increased non-fatal hind injuries, etc.).

12:55 PM Update: More from Thoroughbred Times: “… horses racing on a synthetic surface were 27.6% less likely to break down …

← Before