Indiana Horsemen Question Safety of Surface

Indiana Horsemen Question Safety of Surface
Photo: Coady Photography
Indiana Downs

by Kelsey Riley

A string of breakdowns at Indiana Downs from April 19 to 21 has left a jockey hospitalized and raised concerns over the safety of the Shelbyville track’s racing surface.

Nelson Arroyo was sent to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis after sustaining injuries when his mount, Cause and Effect, broke down in the stretch of Indiana Downs’ eighth race April 20. According to agent Brinda Robbins, Arroyo, who sustained a shattered vertebrae and several other injuries to his back and neck, is expected to make a full recovery. Cause and Effect suffered a broken shoulder and was euthanized.

Since its 2010 racing season began April 16, Indiana Downs has seen three breakdowns on three consecutive days. On April 19, 9-year-old Avril broke down shortly after the start of the fifth race, a 5 1/2-furlong dirt test for fillies and mares, and was euthanized after suffering a broken pastern bone. Miracleintown, a 5-year-old son of Leestown, was pulled up in the stretch of the eighth race April 21 and, according to Equibase, was walked off the track.

This series of events has caused horsemen to question the safety of the Indiana Downs dirt surface, which doubles as a Standardbred track.

“The surface is always a concern, especially because the track is a Standardbred track as well,” said Robbins. “So the versatility of the track, the conditions of the track, are more of a concern because it’s a Standardbred base. So obviously that’s an issue.”

Tom Scherder, the owner and trainer of Cause and Effect, was outspoken with his views against the Indiana Downs surface, noting its depth and inconsistency. Scherder, who operates the equine rehabilitation facility Pegasus Equine Performance Center in Union, Ky., trains his Thoroughbreds from Pegasus and ships them to various tracks to race.

“I think (the track) was the only factor in the breakdown,” said Scherder. “The track was so deep out there where he fell that you could take a ruler and stick it in the ground and I don’t think you’d hit the base. There was a furrow where his shoulder had hit the ground, and it looked like a plowed furrow in a field, it was so deep. The horse is seeing a smooth surface, and suddenly there’s a four or five inch difference in the level that he’s running on.

“It suddenly looked like someone just shot him,” said Scherder. “He hit a deep spot on the track and went down.”

Paul Powers, the trainer of the ill-fated Avril, said he has seen an increase in injuries with deeper surfaces.

“Was it the track? Well, I don’t like a deep track. I’ve been training horses for 55 years and I just don’t like a deep track,” said Powers. “This mare was running good. She was just going easy, just playing, you know, then boom, that leg just snapped right then.

“Every time they put dirt on the track and start filling it up, horses start breaking down,” said Powers. “When we were at Hoosier last year, the horses were hitting the ground real easy, they looked real good, and I was saying, ‘man, this is nice.’ They start racing, but they’re running fast times, so all these trainers are (saying), ‘put dirt on it, put dirt on it.’ I’m saying, ‘man, you guys are wrong.’ Four weeks, nothing breaks down, everything’s running like a million dollars. Then they put all this dirt on the track and boom, three Thoroughbreds break down and one Quarter Horse. It’s harder for a horse on a deep track.”

Scherder said that until changes are made to the racing surface, he will run his horses elsewhere.

“I scratched my horse that was supposed to run tomorrow because I won’t sacrifice another one of my horses on that track,” said Scherder. “If they’re willing to do something about the track to make it safer, I would race there again. But for now, I’m going to pick up all my papers and bring them back. Even though the money’s terrible at River Downs, I can still make some money there and not lose a horse.

“My business is based on injuries, but obviously I’d rather be out of business than see what’s going on sometimes.”

Jon Schuster, general manager of Indiana Downs, said he has heard no complaints regarding the track’s racing surface this year.

“We believe the racing surface is safe. In fact I’ve had no complaints at all,” said Schuster. “I spoke with the (Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association) president yesterday and probably 30 trainers, and I had a general horsemen’s meeting Saturday. I’ve had not one complaint about the racing surface from riders or horsemen of any kind. No one has called the HBPA, the Riders’ Guild, or me. We have a building here on site where folks can go in and file their complaints, and the HBPA brings them to my attention. We’ve had none that I’m aware of.” 

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