by Jon Forbes
Golden Gate Fields experienced an increase in all-sources handle and a decrease in catastrophic injuries during its first meet with a synthetic surface.
The Albany, Calif., racetrack became the second facility to conduct racing on Michael Dickinson’s Tapeta Footings when the meet began Nov. 7, 2007. The session concluded Feb. 3.
“There’s no question in my mind that installing it was the right decision,” Golden Gate general manager Robert Hartman said of Tapeta, which is also in use at Presque Isle Downs & Casino near Erie, Pa.
All-sources handle, which includes wagers on Golden Gate races and races imported from other tracks, rose 9.4% compared with 62 corresponding days in 2006 and 2007, according to Daily Racing Form. The 2006-07 figures included race days at Bay Meadows, the other commercial track on the circuit, because of changes in the racing calendar.
The handle figures weren't immediately available from Golden Gate.
Golden Gate raced three additional days from Dec. 26 through Feb. 3 compared with similar dates in December 2006 and January 2007. The track opted to race four days a week in January 2007 to help fill races.
With activity at the entry box improved with Tapeta, Golden Gate was able to return to a five-day-a-week schedule in January. Meanwhile, Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., canceled eight days of racing because its synthetic surface, Cushion Track, continues to not drain properly following rain.
Another positive trend for Golden Gate was the decline in catastrophic injuries compared with racing on dirt surfaces in Northern California in recent years.
From Nov. 7-Dec. 31, there were 2.11 racing fatalities per 1,000 starters at Golden Gate, compared with 3.62 on dirt tracks at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate from 2004-07, according to data provided by Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board.
There was a spike in injuries, however, when 2008 began. Three horses had either “broke down” or “vanned off” comments on New Year’s Day, according to Equibase charts. Another was “vanned off” Jan. 3, and one more “broke down” Jan. 6, the same day Dickinson visited the track to recommend changes in surface maintenance.
The injury rate declined after Dickinson’s visit, possibly the result of his harrowing recommendations. “We’re still learning and (the surface) will be better,” said Dickinson. “It’s getting better all of the time.”
Trainer William J. Morey Jr. said his horses have experienced “more hind-end problems” on the new surface but remained optimistic about the future of synthetic surfaces.
“I don’t know if we have the shoeing down yet or if we have the surface (maintenance) down yet,” Morey said. “We’re still in the experimental stage but I’m all for (synthetic surfaces).”
Trainer Bill Delia, a former jockey, said he wishes he could have ridden on synthetic surfaces but does not expect them to eliminate injuries completely.
“You’re going to get breakdowns, which is part of what can happen in this game,” Delia said. “I’m sure there are still a few bugs to work out but overall, I think it’s the best thing we’ve had in Northern California in years.”
The decline in injuries and an infusion of horsemen from Washington and British Columbia likely increased the average number of starters per race. Golden Gate averaged 8.21 horses per race for the 2007-08 meet, up more than one horse per race from the corresponding dates in 2006-07, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.