Regular testing and proactive investment are keys to improving the safety records of racetracks, a co-founder of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory said Oct. 16 during the fourth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit.
The summit, held at Keeneland in Lexington, is designed to bring the horse racing industry up to speed on safety initiatives, many of which have come from previous summits. The event is presented by The Jockey Club and Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.
Dr. Mick Petersen, who co-founded the Racing Surfaces and Testing Laboratory with Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, said the lab has worked with about 40 racetracks, 15 of them regularly. The lab, located in Maine, has tested surface samples from 70 racing and training surfaces in the United States and overseas.
Petersen said research has shown that a small number of racetracks have systematic maintenance programs; regular testing of surfaces is the exception rather than the rule; investment in racing surfaces is reactive, not proactive; and investment in improvements is usually minimal.
"Blaming racing surfaces for catastrophic injuries is not the best approach," Petersen said, noting that is not an excuse for neglect. "We need to provide technical support to raise the bar for every track in the industry."
Citing statistics compiled by the Equine Injury Database, Petersen said synthetic tracks overall are the safest, followed by turf courses and dirt surfaces. He said, however, that "the best dirt tracks approach the safety of synthetic tracks."
"We can say synthetic tracks give us what we need, but we have to be realistic," Petersen said. "We need to get dirt tracks as good as possible and keep raising the bar for synthetics. We need to understand the most effective maintenance protocol for climate and track material."
The lab discovered that in their second year of use, synthetic surfaces are prone to changes, including a balling up of material. Petersen said combining the material with wax that has a higher oil content led to more stability of the surfaces.
The first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit was held in 2006. Ed Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, provided some history, including creation of the EID, the racing surfaces lab, and the Uniform National Trainers Test.
"This has required steady slogging by like-minded individuals to achieve the results we wanted," Bowen said. "We are still slogging away six years later. We realize that results may take time."
The summit was scheduled for all day Oct. 16 and the morning of Oct. 17.