‘Blows Up In Your Face Without Any Warning’: The Ongoing Debate Over Synthetics Vs Dirt In Horse Racing

by | 07.01.2019 | 1:05pm
Tapeta Footings synthetic racing surface

With the Thoroughbred racing industry still trying to pin down the reasons behind the fatalities at Santa Anita this year, Tim Sullivan writes for the Louisville Courier-Journal about reasons behind synthetic tracks falling out of favor in North America racing. Sullivan points out there are only five racetracks competing on synthetic, despite clear and concrete data suggesting synthetics have fewer racing deaths than dirt.

“We've had all of this catastrophic publicity, this onslaught against our industry, and yet nobody is willing to recognize one of the most obvious things that we can do by conversion to safer surfaces,” said longtime racehorse owner Bill Casner.

“It blows up in your face without any warning,” said trainer Michael Dickinson, who invented the Tapeta synthetic racing surface used around the world. “Dirt racing can't conduct without a load of fatalities and a shed load of drugs. Those are two things that the public won't put up with.”

But executives at tracks like Keeneland and Del Mar, which both had synthetic eras, have different viewpoints.

“We could see if we stayed in the synthetic environment, we were not going to be in that national discussion,” said Keeneland Vice President Bob Elliston about waning interest by owners and horsemen who wanted Triple Crown prep races on the dirt, for example.

Joe Harper, president and CEO of Del Mar, was a major supporter of running on synthetics years ago, but he said there were unforeseen maintenance issues with Polytrack and the horsemen just didn't want to run over it.

“By that time, Santa Anita had lost interest, Hollywood Park was out of business and Keeneland, which we were all kind of following their lead, they said, 'No, we're getting rid of it, too, because none of the horsemen like it.' There was a pretty good segment of top trainers who wouldn't run on it. What do you do?”

Read more at the Louisville Courier-Journal

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