JC / Railbird


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.

The Toll

Somewhat overshadowed by the Big ‘Cap controversy is that there were two fatalities at Santa Anita on Saturday, one on the new dirt, one on turf:

According to Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, Saturday’s double fatality brought the thoroughbred death totals since the Dec. 26 start of the Santa Anita meeting to 16 — six in racing and six in training on the new dirt track and four on the grass course. Last year, for the entire meeting, and on the synthetic track that brought much anger and whining from horsemen and resulted in owner Frank Stronach replacing it with traditional dirt, there were a total of 17 deaths — six on the main track, five on the training track and six on the grass.

Live racing ends on April 17. With fewer total races carded this year over last, Santa Anita is on track for approximately 26 total fatalities during the meet.

3/9/11 Addendum: More context from Jeff Scott regarding the fatalities on the Santa Anita dirt: “The death of Redemsky brings the total to at least 12, a number that rivals the worst years on the old Santa Anita dirt before the first synthetic surface was installed in 2007.” Where’s the press on this reversion?

The Restoration

The work of replacing Santa Anita’s synthetic surface with dirt has begun:

“We just started to take the synthetic material off today,” Malloy said on Monday. “We’ve had skip loaders out on the track, piling it up and we’ll start hauling it off tomorrow. We anticipate it’ll take about two weeks to remove all of the synthetic material.”

The project is expected to be completed mid- to late-November.

With the return of dirt, owner and CHRB member Jerry Moss predicts:

“It’ll be a rebirth of California racing at the highest form and a successful, happy, nondivisive meet.”

Such optimism. Because, as with injuries, the surface is the only issue?

I realize I’m in the minority, but I’ll miss the Santa Anita synthetic. Although more handicappers caught on during this year’s Kentucky Derby prep season, the synth-to-dirt/SA-to-east angle was a profitable one during its existence. And I didn’t regret the Pro-Ride during the 2008 and 2009 Breeders’ Cup, not after the slop at Monmouth in 2007. There was not one breakdown in those four days, no George Washington to haunt our collective memories.

Elsewhere and unrelated: A short piece on public handicappers for HRF.


– Discuss: Jockey Garrett Gomez chose to ride multiple graded stakes-winning Pioneerof the Nile in the Kentucky Derby over stakes-placed Dunkirk. Did he make the right call? “No,” says Bill Finley, Dunkirk is the better horse. “Yes,” says Jon White, PotN might sweep the Triple Crown. Now, this is the sort of debate it’s fun to have Derby season …

– Steve Davidowitz makes a point in his latest Trackmaster column worth repeating: “Isn’t it clear by now that horses that have run well — or reasonably well — on the synthetic surfaces in southern California have run just as well if not better on good ole plain dirt?” I can think of a few reasons a handicapper might decide to dismiss the Derby contenders, even Pioneerof the Nile, who have campaigned primarily over synthetics, but the surface isn’t a sound one, at least, not yet. There’s too little data, and what there is, points to the synth-to-dirt move as not being an automatic negative.

– Love this little detail in a Los Angeles Times article about Rafael Bejarano’s SoCal success: “Bejarano is so in demand that Saturday, on the 10-race California Gold Rush program, he will have a mount in all 10 races.” The Saturday following, Bejarano will be at Churchill to ride Papa Clem, whose Derby credentials seem more solid the more I consider him.

– Unlike Desert Party … Godolphin announced today that Alan Garcia will remain on Regal Ransom and that Ramon Dominguez will ride Desert Party for the first time next week, which doesn’t inspire confidence in this fan. (Not because Dominguez isn’t a fine jockey, but why no Frankie Dettori? There’s also the matter of Desert Party’s first work at Churchill, which was solid, but not so good as his stablemate’s on the same day.)

– Forget about looking for Kentucky Derby picks who have proved they can come home in less than :38 seconds in a nine-furlong prep. According to the Downey Profile, every likely contender who finished first or second in a prep race ran the final three furlongs in that time or better. What’s more, two-thirds of likely starters did so in better than :37 seconds. This really will be a competitive Derby. (Via The Rail, recently returned.)