Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino won’t be compelled to install a synthetic racing surface, at least not in the immediate future. But the Iowa track's dirt surface could be the topic of future discussion.
Prairie Meadows officials told the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission at its monthly meeting Aug. 30 that it was too soon to judge the pluses and minuses of artificial tracks, and the commission agreed. The commission warned Prairie Meadows last winter that it could mandate the surface, which costs $8 million to $11 million, like the California Horse Racing Board did for tracks in that state.
“We have an obligation to look at safety and welfare,” said Kate Cutler, the commission’s chairwoman. “If it turns out that the statistics (showing fewer injuries) are correct over a long period of time, we have to give it a look-see.”
The commission told Prairie Meadows to keep providing updates on synthetic surfaces. This year’s higher-than-usual injury rate at Prairie Meadows could also be a topic of discussion. Numerous horsemen have said the surface has been too hard.
“That will be a subject for another meeting,” commission executive director Jack Ketterer said. “I know we’ve heard some complaints from horsemen this year.”
Prairie Meadows historically has had a lower injury rate than the national average of 1.5 racing fatalities per 1,000 starts. But after averaging 1.2 equine deaths per 1,000 starts from 2000-06, the rate doubled to 2.44 at this year’s spring meet, at which eight horses were euthanized because of racing injuries.
Two more died during the summer mixed meet through Aug. 18, and four horses have been put down because of morning training injuries.
Bob Gorla, Prairie Meadows facilities director, said heavy rainstorms in April and through the summer made it more difficult than usual to prevent the track from getting too hard.
“This has been a challenge, because we’ve had a wet year all year long,” Gorla said. “We’re used to fighting the water in the spring, but we’re not used to fighting it at this time of the year. Rain makes the track hard. It compacts the track. And then it has to dry to a certain level before we can get the right equipment on it to get it back to where we want it. So, this has been a tough year for us, because we’ve had so much rain.”