It was with great interest that I read Earle Mack's recent TDN Letter to the Editor and Bill Finley's Week in Review piece supporting Mr. Mack's opinion that a major switch to synthetic racing surfaces is called for to save the Thoroughbred Industry.
Although I do not know either of these men personally, I respect their accomplishments in our business, their intentions, opinions and intellect.
With that said, as much as I agree that training and racing surfaces are critical to horse safety and synthetic tracks have lower catastrophic injury rates, I disagree that a mass movement to synthetic surfaces is prudent at the present time.
We simply do not know enough about the multi-factorial nature of today's equine injury rates to expect a surface change to solve our problem; there is no 'silver bullet' to be had in this instance.
Spending millions to re-engineer and resurface tracks across numerous jurisdictions, conditions and climates, only to find that that wasn't enough to optimize safety for horse and rider when we as an industry can hardly afford to further stub our toe, seems ill advised to me.
I believe this problem is best solved through a multi-disciplinary and comprehensive approach. A surface change may indeed be called for, but further study is required before acting.
Many factors contribute to equine injury. Smarter and better-informed professionals than myself can define the parameters for a comprehensive study, but here are some key metrics (in categories), I understand to be worth factoring in:
- Composition/Materials/Integrity of base and cushion
- Management and Maintenance Practices
- Environmental Factors – Ambient Temperature and Moisture Content
- Historical Analysis of Injuries: nature of the injury, surface, distance, horse age, # of starts, spacing between starts, trainer change, track change, etc.
- Condition Book's Influence (including Purse to Claiming Price Ratios)
- Race Meet Length and Timing of Injuries (in the meet and in the race)
- Biomechanics and Stride Analysis
- Identification/Demographics of 'At Risk' Horses
- Horsemanship and Training Methods
- Veterinary Oversight, Medications and Testing/Compliance
It has been my observation that the best approach to creating sustainability in business or industry or sport or life in general, is to do it right initially and minimize the need to come back to repair or rethink the process.
I agree with Mr. Mack and Mr. Finley that decisive action is called for but I believe that a more comprehensive undertaking yields the sustainability (if not growth) we seek. Invest the time to get it right up front. The horse and our industry's survival won't allow for anything less. Now, we just need to put our heads together, make the right plan, fund it and act on it–some of which, is already underway.
–Christopher L. Baker