- My post on Royal Livingston inspired a rash of comments about breakdowns; and though everyone is not quite in agreement on everything, I think we all realize that they are unavoidable, at least to a certain extent. Much thanks to reader Erin, who was nice enough to share her exchange with Dr. Larry Bramlage in a recent session of Bloodhorse's Talkin' Horses. Erin just provided the link, but hell, I ain't paying for the bandwidth, so here you go; it's well worth the read.
With the push for more tracks to go to a synthetic surface do you think it really it helps prevent catastrophic break downs or are we just trying to gloss over problems within our breeding industry. I.E. too much inbreeding and or an over saturation of less than quality individuals being bred?
The data is pretty strong that catastrophic injuries are decreased. The jury is still out on routine injuries. I don’t think they decrease nearly as much. Because, it is not the track that presupposes that a horse is at risk for injury. It is the fact that each Thoroughbred must design and build the perfect skeleton for him to use as a race horse. This is done with training. The yearlings are not born with racehorse skeletons; they have to mold their skeleton into a skeleton that will carry their weight and their mechanics competitively around the track. This is done by progressive small episodes of overload, and then over-repair. This is training. The overloads are small stress fractures that result from training and cause the bone to over-repair and get stronger. These small stress fractures make bones vulnerable to uneven loading. This is where the track comes in. An even, consistent surface does not present the uneven foot plants and abnormal stresses that an inconsistent surface does. That is where the artificial surfaces have an advantage. They are consistent for the top seven inches or so. Dirt tracks are layered, and the cushion and base can vary more readily, leading to uneven landings for the horse’s limbs at high speed. Most of the time the horse can compensate for these uneven spots, but sometimes the uneven spot, the horse’s balance, fatigue, and the presence of a small stress fracture combine to result in failure of the bone, as we know. We could race draft horses over most any surface, and their bones are strong enough it wouldn’t matter. But, the Thoroughbred maintains only the minimum skeleton that is sufficient to carry them around the track. Excess skeleton is added weight and penalized the horse’s speed. So, the light skeleton is a speed advantage, unless it gets too light to carry its owner, and then it fails. This is why we will never eliminate injuries totally. Success is predicated on the fact that our athletes carry the minimum skeleton necessary. They run right on the edge of their physiology. But, we have the obligation to mitigate anything in our power that may make it safer for them. Artificial surfaces may do that, but they have to stand the test of time. Remember when artificial turf came into sports. It was lauded as the ideal surface only to be cursed a few years later when many sprinted back to grass fields. This is a long answer, but questions about artificial surfaces are a hot topic right now. [Bloodhorse]