After track superintendents from across the nation discussed various methods for maintaining their individual surfaces at the Track Superintendent Field Day at Keeneland June 3, Dr. Mick Peterson offered ways to apply what was learned and make the necessary changes to lessen on-track injuries.
Peterson, a professor at the University of Maine, presented the idea that all tracks should start establishing daily maintenance reports, and a centrally located laboratory should be established where materials can be sent for analysis.
“Communicating is part of improving surfaces,” he said, noting that research needs to be done to develop a general model for all synthetic, dirt, and turf surfaces.
One thing Peterson discovered during his extensive research was that a substantial amount of shear strength was needed in order to support hoof during propulsion on dirt surfaces. Tracks with a low shear strength attributed to more bowed tendons, he said.
According to Peterson, track superintendents should be concerned first with the performance of a track, and then the composition. After a track establishes safe and maintainable materials in its surface, its composition should be measured in order to maintain its continued performance.
“We need to have standard methods that are used at all tracks,” he said.
Peterson said controlling the temperature and stability of the moisture in various track surfaces is something on which superintendents could improve.
In 2003, Peterson and Dr. Wayne McIlwraith of Colorado State University developed a biomechanical hoof tester in 2003 that measures a track’s vertical stiffness as well as its resistance to slipping, and evaluated 26 surfaces nationwide. “We all know when a track gets too hard—we don’t know at what point, but as soon as we decrease its hardness, we increase its variability,” Peterson said. “So it’s a trade-off. We have to tie it to the risk of the horse.”
Peterson said simpler tests are needed as well as reliable meters that can more properly measure the different aspects of dirt and synthetic tracks.
By tying together Dr. Mary Scollay’s recently developed on-track catastrophic injury reporting system with a soft-tissue study completed by Jeff Blea and McIlwraith, Peterson said trends could be discovered to further improve track surfaces. “We need to share ideas, work openly, push vendors (for better measurement tools), recognize their needs, agree on some basic tests for performance, have everyone do them the same, and then see the results,” Peterson said.
Though he said tracks need to maintain shear strength of their surfaces, there are multiple ways to accomplish that task. “With different bases and different depths (of surfaces), how will we have a standardized system? That’s why we need performance standards—it comes down to two measurements: how hard the track is, and the shear strength of the surface,” Peterson said. “We have to let the horses tell us what we need. The one thing we can measure is consistency.”
Peterson said while it will be a tough job to standardize surfaces across the country, an advantage of synthetic tracks is they all have the same base. And while results won’t occur overnight, developing daily track maintenance forms are the first step in the process, he said.