An online survey of New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association members was almost evenly divided on whether or not the New York Racing Association should install a synthetic racing surface at Aqueduct.
NYRA CEO Chris Kay raised the issue earlier this month at a meeting of the New York Racing Franchise Oversight Board, saying his organization was considering a $9 million to $12 million capital budget expense to install a synthetic track in 2017.
Martin Panza, NYRA's senior vice president-racing, subsequently told Daily Racing Form Aqueduct's inner dirt track – which is used from December to March – is under consideration for the new surface. Aqueduct currently has two dirt surfaces and one turf track.
“We believe having a synthetic track at Aqueduct would be very helpful in bringing horses from other locales,” Kay was quoted as telling the Franchise Oversight Board. He also cited synthetic tracks for having a better safety record for catastrophic injuries.
The NYTHA survey was sent to members May 9. On May 26, the horsemen's organization reported that 48.4 percent of respondents did not support a synthetic track at Aqueduct, while 46.1 percent said they supported the idea. Another 5.5 percent were undecided.
The NYTHA survey also asked:
–“As an owner or trainer, would you be more or less likely to stable horses in New York in the winter if there is a synthetic surface at Aqueduct?”
–“Would you be more or less likely to wager on Aqueduct's races if they are conducted on a synthetic surface?”
–“What is your opinion of synthetic surfaces in general.”
Results from those questions were not available, nor was the number of members participating in the survey.
The newsletter labeled the results “something of a surprise” and encouraged members who had not taken the survey to do so.
An unusually high number of racing fatalities on Aqueduct's inner track during the 2011-12 meeting led to the creation of a special task force that issued a report in September 2012, calling for a number of safety measures. The most recent Aqueduct inner track meeting saw a large reduction in racing fatalities from the previous season, dropping from 15 in 2014-15 to five in 2015-16, according to statistics from the New York State Gaming Commission.
Earlier this year, The Jockey Club released statistics from its Equine Injury Database showing that synthetic surfaces are safer, in terms of the number of racing fatalities. For 2015, there were 1.78 fatalities per 1,000 starts on dirt (down from 2.02 in 2014), 1.22 fatalities per 1,000 starts on turf (down from 1.75 in 2014) and 1.18 fatalities per 1,000 starts on synthetic tracks (down from 1.20 in 2014).
The only North American tracks racing on a synthetic surface are Woodbine, Presque Isle Downs and Golden Gate Fields (using Tapeta Footings), and Arlington Park and Turfway (using Polytrack). Santa Anita Park and Del Mar in California, along with Keeneland in Kentucky, removed their synthetic surfaces and returned to dirt for their main track races.
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