Management at Turfway Park is continuing to be diligent in seeking answers to why the number of catastrophic (fatal) injuries doubled during the Northern Kentucky track’s recent holiday meet.
At the Jan. 6 Kentucky Horse Racing Commission meeting, state veterinarian Bryce Peckham reported there were eight live racing fatalities during the 21-day holiday meet in December, compared with four such injuries during the 27-day meet in 2007. The alarming rise in catastrophic injuries has resulted in questions being raised about the track’s Polytrack artificial surface, which has been in use for three years.
Turfway Park president Bob Elliston said the track has brought in experts from Polytrack to review all aspects of the surface. So far, he said, their review indicated no problems, especially with the depth of the surface material.
“We are looking at the manner in which we groom the surface and type of equipment being used on the surface,” Elliston said, adding that the Polytrack experts will be “relentless in trying to determine what is going on.”
The Polytrack company is partially owned by Keeneland, which also is a partner in Turfway. Keeneland also has a Polytrack surface.
Elliston said management solicits feedback daily from the jockeys, trainers, and veterinarians at Turfway regarding the track surface. “All of those constituencies tell us they don’t believe the surface is a contributor to the (fatality) issue.”
Based on a consensus of opinion from Turfway vets, as of Jan. 1 the track lifted a ban on the use of toe grabs on rear shoes during the track’s races, although there is no definitive indication the equipment is contributing to the problem. The use of toe grabs provides greater traction and most racing jurisdictions, including Kentucky, have banned their use on the front shoes. Elliston said Keeneland and Turfway instituted house rules banning them on the rear shoes also because of a belief the artificial surface provides sufficient traction without needing rear toe grabs.
“The vets said they really believed it would be beneficial to have toe grabs on the rear, especially when the horses are running in the turns,” he said.
During the KHRC meeting, Peckham and Kentucky equine medical director Mary Scollay reiterated there are generally a number of causes for catastrophic injuries, making it difficult to attribute such incidents to a single cause.
“Based on conversations I have had with the veterinary community, it (catastrophic injury) is usually a combination of little things rather than something happened right there (at the time of the fatality),” Elliston said. “Unfortunately, they are going to happen. But even if there is a single breakdown, we are going to continue ask the same questions and do the same evaluations.”
Peckham told the commissioners that his staff has been diligent in their pre-race inspections of the horses racing at Turfway, with two veterinarians on hand during live racing.
“We take pre-race exams very seriously,” Peckham said, adding that each horse is inspected while jogging before a race.
“We are looking at everything. We are not focusing on any one thing,” Peckham said of the Turfway fatalities.