John Moynihan, Kentucky bloodstock agent

John Moynihan, Kentucky bloodstock agent

Anne M. Eberhardt

Sale Forum: The Effect of Synthetic Tracks

Buyers discuss how they have changed (or not changed) their buying strategies.

Now that some horses race on synthetic tracks or are sold at juvenile auctions after working over synthetic surfaces, have buyers at Thoroughbred sales changed how they make their selections? Based on a series of interviews conducted by The Blood-Horse, some shoppers have made adjustments, but others are relying on the same strategies they used in the past. Read what they had to say:

Buzz Chace, New Jersey bloodstock agent: “I pick out horses the same way. I usually pick them out at the barn. Track performance doesn’t make my decision whether I buy them or not, so I don’t mind if they work on the synthetics. I make my decision at the barn. I try to buy the athlete, and I look at whether he has all the right parts, whether he looks like he’s going to stay sound or not, and whether he’s stressed out or not. The track performance helps, but you have to put it all together.”

Andrew Cary, Thoroughbred Futures: Whether it’s on a dirt or a synthetic surface, you can tell by the way a (juvenile sale) horse moves during its breeze if it’s a good horse or not. I sort of feel that a synthetic surface allows horses that have less than ideal action still work at a pretty fast clip. On dirt, those imperfections are magnified, and they’ll work slower as a result. I don’t have any trouble spotting them (the horses that move well), but the (workout) times are a little less separated on synthetics. You have to throw the times out the window and evaluate the horses more on how they move and how they look at the barn.”

John Moynihan, Kentucky bloodstock agent: “I still put a lot of emphasis on successful horses I’ve bought in the past and what they were like physically. As you know, we (main client Stonestreet Stables) primarily run on dirt, so I’m real critical on how they (the horses) move on that stuff (synthetics). I try to get around as much as I can to the farms and see the horses train on a conventional dirt racetrack.”

Samantha Siegel, Jay Em Ess Stable: “We basially go in to a yearling sale trying to look for an athlete that fits our budget. We look for good individuals that would run well no matter what surface you ran them on. I I don’t think about it (the ability to run on synthetic surfaces) when I’m buying, but I might think about it when I’m deciding who goes where because we have several different trainers in several different parts of the country and we can move our horses around. The nice thing I’ve found about them (synthetic tracks) is they’re a little more forgiving on horses in the morning and they (the horses) are less likely to get some of those little injuries that trainers turn them out for. They also seem to come out of races better and recover from races better, so hopefully you’re not going to have as much down time with them.”

Bob Feld, California bloodstock agent: “I don’t buy speed horses so I haven’t had to change. It (the change to synthetic surfaces in Calfornia) hurt people who were buying speed horses more than it did someone who was buying a more classic distance type of horse. I do pay a little bit more attention to some pedigrees now because there are some pedigrees you want to stay away from (when buying horses to run on synthetics) and that’s still evolving. I wouldn’t dismiss turf pedigrees as much as before because turf horses definitely switch over to Polytrack very well.”

Barry Berkelhammer, Florida bloodstock agent: “My customers run a lot at Saratoga, Belmont, Churchill, and Monnouth, so I’m still looking for the same thing I’ve always looked for–a dirt horse that will run on Saturday afternoon. When they’re selling 2-year-olds off of synthetic surfaces, it makes it much more difficult for me and I’m very cautious. Horses seem to skip over a synthetic surface very easily. The good horses obviously breeze good whatever they’re on, but the mediocre horses can breeze very well (on a synthetic track), so it’s muddied up the waters so to speak. It’s hard to trust what you’re really seeing. It takes a really special horse for me to believe it’s special. It makes the horse have to stand up to a higher standard and jump through more hoops. Not only do they have to move well through the work, but they need to look good on the end of the shank and not be sore when I go look at them. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not that comfortable with it (buying a 2-year-old that works over a synthetic surface).”

Joe Appelbaum, Off the Hook (a yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking operation): “We don’t think about it in terms of synthetics in particular, but we love horses that have surface flexibility, whether it’s on synthetics, dirt, or grass. With the way synthetics are expanding, you need to have horses that are going to appeal to buyers in different places. You have different tracks in Calfiornia, at Keeneland, in Dubai, and in Europe and Asia, so I think it’s smart to have horses that can run on a couple of different surfaces rather than having just a specialist in one.”

W.D. North, Florida-based yearling-to-juvenile pinhooker: “Some of our clients from California really lean toward sires that they think will work on synthetics, but I don’t target the synthetic horse. Personally, I like to buy horses I feel like can run on any surface. We’ve targreted Dixie Union as a sire we want to invest in because he gets all kind of runners–grass, dirt, and synthetic.”

Patrice Miller, EQB: “When you do gait analysis and things like that (at juvenile auctions), you can compare horses that have been on Polytrack versus horses that have been on dirt, so we have a little better feel for what the ‘Poly’ indicates. We’re a little more comfortable with the ‘Poly’ now. We weren’t at first; it took a while. It took some data organization. What the ‘Poly’ does is increase the stance time a certain amount. That’s the amount of time the foot spends on the track, and undertstanding the interrelationship of that and how it changes from ‘Poly’ to dirt is a big advantage. It’s not how fast the horse goes; it’s how the horse goes fast, especially on ‘Poly.’ ”

Nick de Meric, Florida horseman: “Nice horses tend to step up on most surfaces. But sometimes those bigger, scopier types of horses handle it (a synthetic surface) better than they used to handle dirt at an early age. We can show those horses better on synthetics (when offering them at sales of 2-year-olds in training).”

Headley Bell, Mill Ridge Farm and Nicoma Bloodstock: “In the big picture, it (the issue with synthetic tracks) is a rather minor point. You still have to have the horse (physically). You still have to have the pedigree. You’ve got to have the value. So many other things outweigh that paticular ingredient as far as I’m concerned (in selecting horses at sales).”

Eddie Woods, Florida yearling-to-juvenile pinhooker: “I’m trying to buy a nice horse and then we pick where we need to go with him. It’s all about the good horse. Even though some people appear to hate synthetic tracks, horses are handling them and doing well over them. We’ve had certain horses that wouldn’t have been able to handle the dirt that have moved well on a synthetic track and it’s worked out in our favor.”

Mark Casse, a trainer who is based at Woodbine in Canada: “There are some horses that prefer it (a synthetic track) over others. You’re more likely to buy a horse that does have some grass tendencies (in its pedigree). But if trained over a synthetic surface, most horses will adapt to it. There are very few that don’t like it. And there are some things (physically) that a horse can get away with a little more. On a synthetic surface, we’re getting about a quarter of the knee chips and ankle chips that we used to get on a dirt track.”

Niall Brennan, Florida-based yearling-to-juvenile pinhooker: “I don’t know if it has changed the way we buy horses. I don’t think when you’re buying a yearling you’re thinking, ‘Oh, this horse might like a synthetic track.’ But if you really liked a horse and it looked like it had a turf pedigree, it might give you more encouragement to buy that horse when, in the past, you might have stayed away from it.”

Alex Solis II, California bloodstock agent: “One thing I try not to buy is a heavy-bodied horse. They don’t really float over a track as much as a lighter horse. They have more power and they dig in and push off, and on a synthetic track, that doesn’t seem to help them as much. It’s harder for them for some reason, and we worry about soft tissue injuries.”

Dean De Renzo, Florida-based yearling -to-juvenile pinhooker: “We’ve bought horses identical to the way we bought them when we had to only sell them on a dirt track, hoping they would perform on a synthetic track as well.”