Del Mar track management held an informal meeting the morning of July 22 to address the spike in injuries and fatal breakdowns during the first days of the seaside oval's summer season.
The meeting included several trainers and representatives from the Thoroughbred Owners of California, as well as the California Horse Racing Board's chairman Richard Shapiro.
The group met informally in an effort to calm the concerns raised by both horsemen and racing fans since the seven-week season got underway on July 19. Unofficially, seven horses have been injured in the three racing days since the season began, with four euthanized. Of the four euthanizations, three occurred in the afternoon.
"We all have the same concerns," said Joe Harper, Del Mar president and general manager. "Safety is the number one issue at Del Mar. Unfortunately the majority of catastrophic injuries are an accumulation over time, but we still need to identify the issues we need to be dealing with."
Trainer Richard Mandella said that no one factor was responsible for the injuries.
"There are several problems," Mandella explained. "Santa Anita closed its main track for training to work on the surface and consequently a lot of trainers were forced to move to Del Mar. And they're putting in a new surface at Hollywood Park so everyone had to be out of there right after the meet was over. So there are too many horses training at Del Mar at one time. It's a case of (all the horses) sharing the same space at the same time."
According to Dr. Rick Arthur, who has been named CHRB's new medical director, as many as 30% more horses are training over the Del Mar track than normal. He said it is sensible to expect the injury rate to increase by as much as 30%.
"There was a study done several years ago that found that when horses move to a new track, there's always a rash of new injuries," Arthur said. "Del Mar is the only track that we all get up and move to. There are more horses training here than at any other track in California, it's the narrowest track in California and there's no substantial training track. It's a multi-factorial problem and, as usual, people have been very responsive and very concerned."
Mandella said that in the short term, all trainers have been asked to spread out their training over the entire morning and restrict galloping until at least 10 minutes after each renovation break, leaving the initial post-break time for workers only.
"But as the meeting progresses, the (training times) will spread out naturally," Mandella said.
According to Del Mar executive vice president Craig Fravel, the track sends samples of the main track to a soil and plant laboratory in Los Angeles on a daily basis and adds sand to the main track when necessary to eliminate any problems, including "balling up." Should any change in the way the renovation crews maintain the track become necessary, Fravel said they would take place immediately.
"We are going to pay even closer attention," Fravel said. "We are continually sending out samples (to the lab) to try and approximate (the best course of action for track maintenance.) There are so many factors we're looking at on a daily basis."
Arthur said there are two members of the veterinarian team who examine each horse entered to run and that Del Mar is considering adding an additional member.
"We told the examining vet to err on the side of the horse," Arthur said. "If you have any doubt, scratch."
Del Mar expects to have a synthetic surface on the main track in place by the 2007 racing season.