Barbaro, Eight Belles, Fleet Indian, Pine Island, and George Washington. All these horses have one thing in common, they all broke down on a conventional dirt racetrack. All but one of them broke down and ended up dead. Due to such high profile breakdowns Turfway, Keeneland, Arlington, and all major tracks in California converted to, what was then thought to be the safer, synthetic tracks. These tracks are made of carpet fibers, rubber, wax, and dirt, and in today's era of synthetics there are a variety of brands, Tapeta, Polytrack, Cushion Track, and Pro-Ride.
The one state that exclusively races it's top horses over synthetic is California, home of Champion Older Female Zenyatta, who has made 13 of her 14 career starts over synthetic tracks. Synthetics were installed to be a safer version of a convetional dirt track. They were also supposed to be easier to maintain and unaffected by the weather, whether it be in extreme heat or the bitter cold. However over the past few years these tracks have been used they have been the total opposite of what they were reported. Synthetics do not play like dirt, they are effected by weather, they are not easier to maintain, and don't even seem to be safer than conventional dirt.
Horses today are not being bred to run on synthetics, they are still bred primarily for turf or dirt, which is what the majority of the defining races for a thoroughbred are run over. Because of this many dirt horses going to synthetics flounder over the new surface, while a synthetic horse, which is normally bred to handle dirt, switching over to the conventional dirt will, for the most part, take to the surface quite well. Some recent examples of East Coast failures over Synthetics are Bulls Bay in the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, Curlin finishing fourth in the Breeders Cup Classic, Regal Ransom in this year's Classic and last year's Norfolk, and Summer Bird in this year's Classic. Examples of synthetic horses transferring well to dirt are I Want Revenge in this year Gotham and Wood Memorial, Pioneerofthe Nile finishing second in this year's Kentucky Derby, Papa Clem in the Arkansas Derby, Colonel John in last year's Travers, and the unbeaten Zenyatta in last year's Apple Blossom.
Synthetics are also inconsistent in so many different ways it will make your head spin. First off different brands are so wildly different from one another you can never really be sure if your horse may take to a different type of synthetic, even if they are already proven over another brand. Again, it seems to be an east coast west coast thing, since you normally see the worst results when horses coming from Keeneland's Polytrack to Santa Anita's Pro-Ride seem to flop like a fish out of water when swithing surfaces. Another way that synthetic tracks are inconsistent is by the way they play in the mornings to the afternoons. Trainers have said that when working their horses in the morning the synthetics are tighter and play more like a dirt track, yet in the afternoons, when the sun reaches it's highest point in the sky and the temperature begins to cook the track, the wax begins to melt, causing the track to become looser and harder for horses to get a good hold on. So you never know how your horse is going to react on race day, even if they've been burning up the rubber in recent works.
All these problems though are not the main thing that bothers me, it is the fact that these tracks were reported to be safer, yet the unpredictability they have displayed recently says otherwise. Last year after the Breeders Cup World Championships there came a rash of breakdowns that Santa Anita. Right around the same time Turfway Park also underwent a large amount of fatalities in a short amount of time. Though each track assured the public that all was well they left out one very important thing, and explanation, and not knowing what was causing these breakdowns is a very troubling thought. This year at Del Mar we saw a total 12 breakdowns in the first two weeks of the meet, in one race alone we experienced two breakdowns, one career ending and one fatal. Now, back to the 2009 Santa Anita meet, we have our most recent fatality, six time stakes winner Carlsbad, who was euthanized on the track after shattering her right ankle while completing a seven furlong workout.
They were supposed to be safer, they were suppose to be more consistent, they were supposed be better. Now years after the breakdowns of Pine Island, Fleet Indian, George Washington, Barbaro, and Eight Belles, I can honestly say these tracks have greatly dissapointed. We gave them their trail period and we gave them time and all they have done is more damage than good, causing division among our sport, which is in need of unity. In their trial period they have proven that they are the exact opposite of what they were suppose to be. The age of synthetics needs to come to an end.