Everyone who has read my blog know that I absolutely hate synthetics. I do not understand the need for them when a well maintained dirt track is just as good, no scratch that, better than them. A great example is Saratoga, who has had less fatal breakdowns in two years than any California track has had in just this year. Synthetics are quirky and no matter what you do as a handicapper, there is now way to tell how a horse coming of dirt or turf will handle the synthetics. Heck, it's even a pain to do when one synthetic specialist goes from one brand of synthetic to another. For the most part they are unpredictable, they can be as good as Saratoga's dirt course one minute then Have ten breakdowns over the course of seven days. The worse thing is when something like that occurs is that the track owners cannot explain why it is happening.
I cannot stand many of the synthetic brands. I think track owner rushed into installing them off of the pressure PETA was causing due to a rash of high profile breakdowns. Due to them rushing in, pretty much blind and ignorant to the new products, they did not know how to maintain the new surface, or even how many horses would even react. Also due to the rush each major track in California had a different brand of synthetics, and all play differently. Hollywood Park had a fairly consistent track called Cushion Track which plays like dirt, while Santa Anita has Pro-Ride which favors turf horses. The last of the major tracks Del Mar has polytrack, which you never know what you are going to get, it is the most inconsistent, quirky track of all.
Last year both Keeneland and Santa Anita had a spike, and huge spike injuries toward the end of the year. This year Del Mar had the worst of the spikes, as 12 horses, broke down and were euthanized in the opening two weeks. In the Cal Cup Classic we saw two horse in one race break down, one was euthanized, another, the very promising three year old Grazen, will never race again. Just last week, a two year old named Bonnie Brown Eyes was running on the lead in mid stretch when she suddenly snapped her ankle, then plummeted to the ground. It was later revealed that the filly had snapped not only her ankle, but her neck, when she fell, causing her to die instantly, in probably one of the most gruesome and horrific races witnessed.
Personally, I feel that the breakdowns, especially this year are due to the switch of surface, every time a meet ends and another begins. Dirt tracks are different, but for the most part not to the extent of synthetics. Changing these surfaces so quickly makes these horses use different muscles that they are not used to using. When putting more stress on those muscles or even when running a horse over a track they aren't used to and may not like, you heighten the risk for injury, which can result in these horrific breakdowns. The only way I can figure to reduce these fatalities and career ending injuries, or at least stunt the numbers is to pick one brand.
My choice would be Tapeta, which is used at Presque Isle Downs and was recently installed in Dubai for the Medayan Racecourse. Of course like every track it has injuries, but I have yet to here about any major breakdowns or an unexplainable rash of fatalities, which is just what this sport needs. It is a fair track, and though there are some dirt horses who do not take to the particular brand, it is overall a fair track. Installing this would lessen hopefully lessen the amount of stress caused by switching surfaces, in turn reducing the number of breakdowns.
Bringing uniformity to synthetics would make it much easier for me to tolerate these tracks, especially if they proved to work and reduce the number of fatalities, since overall I am opposed to using them to begin with. However, the jury, unfortunately is still out on these tracks, which may mean another five to ten years of racing over them. Either way, I am all for the safety of our magnificent athletes, and if that means changing to one good brand of synthetics I will be all for it. This time around though, can we at least do a little digging and research, that way we know what kind of waters we'll be jumping into?