December 4, 2010

In with the New, Out with the Polycrap

Santa Anita will open its brand new dirt track for training this Monday. In the political and economic realities of horse racing in California, it marks a sudden and radical turnabout in the direction of the sport. At perhaps the highest profile track in American racing to go synthetic, the surface has been quickly wiped away, as if to say it was never there in the first place. Bringing back dirt serves as a clear admission that the installation of the synthetic surface, only a few years earlier, was a mistake. It was simply a bad idea. Like many bad ideas it was rushed into and shoved down the throats of everyone connected.

Live and learn. Or did we? Remington Park went to something called Equitrack in 1988. By 1991, the Oklahoma track went back to dirt. Back then, they were the only one to experiment. In 2010 no fewer than nine major North American tracks have a synthetic surface acting as their main track.

American racing and breeding has been geared for dirt racing since its inception. Our horses are dirt horses. Trying to change that may have been doable, but it was not practical. As horse racing struggles to keep its fan base and gambling dollars, now was not the time to go through a reinvention project that would take dozens of years to successfully complete. If synthetic surfaces fulfilled the promise of greater safety and more consistent surfaces, then maybe we could have lived with the long adaptation process of our horses. Unfortunately, the benefits are just not there.

Call it what you want, all-weather track or synthetic surface. Whatever the type, Polytrack, Cushion track, Pro-Ride, or Tapeta, these surfaces have not been good for American racing. They were supposed to make our horses and riders safer. They do not. The injuries might be different, but they remain. Consistency through weather, or from one track to another, is no better than it was on dirt. If anything it is worse. The only thing that shifting to all-weather surfaces at many of our major tracks really accomplished was splintering a sport. A sport that did not need to splintered. Horsemen don’t like it. Gamblers don’t like it.

The state of California was the worst perpetrator in jumping on a shaky bandwagon of artificialness, but they were far from alone. At least Santa Anita realized and acted upon their mistake quickly.

To my own beloved Arlington Park I only have this to say … you are a beacon of beauty and grandeur in the Midwest. You are the trusted keeper of a rich and storied past. You have one of the greatest cities in the world ready to embrace you. Your coffers will soon be reinvigorated by the cold hard cash of slot machines. Your turf course already sparkles in resplendent green … Scrap the crap and return to dirt, and do it now.

14 comments:

Jonathan said...

I don't bet the synths or all weather as we call it in England. The Polytrack does not favour gamblers with favourites having a worse record than on turf.

Its value is at present with the country frozen it allows the mugs and addicts and some very clever players something to bet on. That's it's sole purpose.

Sure it's nice come Breeder's Cup for us Euros but that is hardly a reason for the US to indulge this stuff.

As you have pointed out Brian there is a lot can be done for horse welfare and changing the track was a sop/panacea rather than tackle other things.

LetItRideMike said...

First and foremost, if the HORSE DEATH COUNT box appears back in So. Cal newspapers, the whole future of CA racing will be at risk. This all came about because of ultra high fatality and injury rates. Personally, I always did very well on synthetic surfaces. The prices are better and those who can watch a horse and see if it has good action, or conversely dislikes a surface had a big advantage over players who can only pick a horse based on numbers, like a stock analyst. It gave an edge to those who put observing the horse over times and variants.

Anonymous said...

I hate when someone generalizes and calls any synthetic surface Polytrack!!! $&#! They are not all alike. In fact, they can be very different, for anyone who actually pays attention to them instead of just walking around saying how much they suck.

Anonymous said...

Turfway Park running in the middle of winter with the dirt freezing and thawing needed to do something to cut down on the many breakdowns/cancellations but why Santa Anita had to follow suit never made sense.
RG

The_Knight_Sky said...

LetItRideMike said...

First and foremost, if the HORSE DEATH COUNT box appears back in So. Cal newspapers, the whole future of CA racing will be at risk.

______________________________

The future of California racing has been and will continue to be at risk if the CHRB continues with a neglected medication policy that makes these horses infirm or simply incapable of regular racing.

How many horses were entered but scratched out of the Hollywood Park card today Saturday, December 4th? That's no way to cover the CHRB derriere.

California has a medication policy and enforcement problem. Until that is addressed, satisfactory results from conversion to modern dirt courses will not be realized.

LetItRideMike said...

The Knight Sky ,akes a valid point. However, top trainers in So Cal and at Arlington both have told me the number one cause for the huge spike in fatalities the last few years they had dirt can be directly attributed to the severe cutbacks by Magna and CDI in the track maintenance and track equipment purchase budgets. Del Mar was a different story. no effort or expense was spared, but the breakdowns still came in droves.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to hear anything bad about Tapeta. Anyone with any info?

Phar Lap said...

So comments get deleted when valid points are brought up that you disagree with?

Nice.

Brian Zipse said...

Phar Lap,

Is this some sort of game?

Since only two people have the ability to delete a comment (Me and the person who authored the comment), and I did not delete the comment ... I must assume that you deleted the comment, and then complained that it was gone.

Please do not do this again.

Here is your comment ...

"If synthetic surfaces fulfilled the promise of greater safety and more consistent surfaces, then maybe we could have lived with the long adaptation process of our horses."

What will you say when the Jockey Club study concludes that synthetic surfaces lessen catastrophic breakdowns? Because let's be honest in the early numbers, there was a statistical difference in breakdowns on dirt and synthetics just not a big enough sample size. In due time.

"Trying to change that may have been doable, but it was not practical. As horse racing struggles to keep its fan base and gambling dollars, now was not the time to go through a reinvention project that would take dozens of years to successfully complete."

With our lax medication policy here, this is exactly what needs to happen. You do realize were another nationally televised breakdown from at best government intervention and at worst being put out of business? Would you argue this? If you take how many horses have broken down on the big days since 2000...it's only a matter of time.

"Horsemen don’t like it. Gamblers don’t like it."

I'm guessing you didn't talk to Richard Mandella, John T. Ward, Graham Motion, Kenny McPeek, etc. See this is what drives me crazy about the dirt schill's. They make false blanket statements about synthetics thinking they know or represent everything and everyone. You know just like favorites don't win at the same rate they do on dirt? Seems to me some gamblers have figured how to wager on it.

While synthetics continue to expand everywhere in the world, I'll just wait for the California death count to pop back up in the newspapers...

Phar Lap said...

Brian.

I'm not using a Google account, so I don't think I could delete the comment even if I wanted to. It was only up for 10-15 minutes anyway before I noticed it was gone. May have been a technical error.

I appreciate you re-posting it. No hard feelings.

Brian Zipse said...

Fair enough, and certainly, no hard feelings.

Anonymous said...

the only thing worse than betting on these artificial surfaces is having to deal with these awful slow pace races around the country.this is the worst thing that has happened to racing as we are losing players to these nonsensical random results.

Mike in SB said...

The synthetic surface at Santa Anita has been a big disapointment. It clearly has not worked as advertised, I don't know if this is the result of cutting costs when it was put in or not but I am happy it has been replaced. But Santa Anita cannot forget that just a few years ago the string of breakdowns in major races came close to killing racing. Horse racing will never be a major sport again if the safety of the horses is not improved. I think it was a mistake to mandate synthetic surfaces, what they should have done was to mandate a reduction in breakdowns over a period of time and let the tracks figure out a way to acomplish it. Santa Anita must make sure the new dirt surface is safe, if they just go back to the way it was 5 or 6 years ago racing in California will not survive.

Brian Zipse said...

"I think it was a mistake to mandate synthetic surfaces, what they should have done was to mandate a reduction in breakdowns over a period of time and let the tracks figure out a way to acomplish it."

Well said Mike in SB ... let's hope they get this track right.