- Reader Green Mtn Punter writes:
So glad NYRA didn't rush into synthetic surfaces, aren't you Alan? More and more it appears that too many tracks were sold a bill of goods by the snake oil salesmen.I agree that New York has done the right thing; there was no pressing reason to rush into it here. I think California was well-intentioned, but it certainly appears as if it would have been wiser to take a more cautious approach.
A few readers have also brought up the question of whether reduced injuries are due mainly to the new track bases that are being installed underneath the artificial surfaces. And it does seem as if breakdowns have increased after the first years of use.
However, and despite the drainage problems at Santa Anita, I'm not ready to give up on synthetic tracks just yet. It may very well turn out that, in the long run, the surface does not by itself reduce the risk of injury. But still, assuming that drainage problems like Santa Anita's and aberrant biases like that at Keeneland are addressed, we would still benefit greatly from artificial surfaces if only just from the elimination for once and for all of sloppy racetracks. [That's perhaps a strange discussion to be having considering what's happened this week; but that freakish rainfall would probably have nixed racing on a dirt surface anyway, as it did at Los Alamitos. Racing has continued despite heavy rain at Golden Gate (whose Tapeta surface, Illman's stats the other day notwithstanding, is still getting only good reviews from what I'm seeing), and a Hollywood Park spokesperson told the Form that his track "could have run racing here any of the last three days."] Is there anyone who wants to see a repeat of last year's Breeders' Cup?
The elimination of dominant speed biases is another good reason to keep these tracks around in my opinion, and horses are still widely reported to be fitter from training and racing over the surfaces.
Green Mtn Punter continues: Let's start by improving the breed, as the mission used to be, and forget these ridiculous band-aids. A noble mission it is indeed, but I don't think there's been any incentive to improve the breed. Breeders have not been penalized for producing fragile horses; owners are just racing them less, retiring them earlier, and cashing in big time themselves if they're lucky enough to have a stud prospect. Synthetic tracks, in my view, may prove to be that incentive by de-emphasizing raw speed in favor of stamina. Already there have been indications of some subtle shifts based on comments by breeders I've read. In the long run, a stouter breed presumably means sounder horses and less catastrophes on the track; and thus the synthetic tracks could eventually achieve its goal of less breakdowns in that indirect fashion, even if the surfaces themselves are unable to do it alone.