As the Thoroughbred industry continues to work toward improved equine safety, experts say the key for best surface safety is consistency, which can be tough to achieve. Dr. Mick Peterson and Dr. Wayne McIlwraith recently addressed racing surfaces in a letter to the editor of the Thoroughbred Daily News. They noted that while the safety of the surfaces has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, “The challenge remains; the inconsistency of racing surfaces in a range of climates and weather must be reduced.”
Dr. Mick Peterson is the Executive Director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and a Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Wayne McIlwraith is an equine orthopedic surgeon and a University Distinguished Professor and Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Orthopaedics at Colorado State University.
The duo first partnered in 1998, where they investigated the microdamage to bone that lead to fracture in racehorses; they then began examining the possible effects different racetrack surfaces had on the limbs of racehorses. A machine that replicated the loads and speeds of a Thoroughbred forelimb was used to evaluate the interface of the hoof and the track of racehorses as well as track maintenance on mechanical properties at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar.
In an effort to reduce variation, the team developed the first standard test protocol for racing surfaces., which includes combined material testing, base inspection and biomechanical testing of the surfaces.
Peterson and McIlwraith say that injury to horse or rider is the result of a failure of multiple systems; they note that it's critical for every vet check and every piece of track maintenance equipment to be scrutinized to avoid injury.
Moisture content is the most important variable on a dirt or turf racing surface. Synthetic surfaces reduce the effect of water dramatically and reduce overall equine injury rates. However, synthetic surfaces are difficult to maintain as they age and the ability of horses to maintain soundness longer on these tracks is in doubt by some trainers.
Both researchers believe that moisture content and the reduction of variation in moisture in the dirt and turf racing surfaces is one of the only ways that these tracks will be able to rival synthetic surfaces with regards to safety. They feel that a completely new approach to maintenance is needed, including the overhaul of watering and sealing tracks. They offer that real-time moisture measurements can be used and that the reduction in moisture variation because of wind or shadows must be reduced.
Drs. Peterson and McIlwraith are adamant that though track surface is not the sole cause of injury, it must be improved.
Read more at the Thoroughbred Daily News.
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