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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Michael Dickinson Turns to Artificial Surface Duties, Will End Training Efforts

One of the world's great racing personalities will change his role in 2008. Trainer Michael Dickinson, the celebrity trainer of Maryland's Fair Hill complex, will devote fulltime efforts to the sales and development of his Tapeta racing surface business, according to an article posted on bloodhorse.com today.

Tapeta is now in use in five countries around the world. Dickinson has long been a champion of safer all-weather training surfaces and went to work to prove to the world that horses can train and run more safely by developing his own formula and engineering system.

“I have been concerned for some time about the welfare of horses racing on unsuitable surfaces and really want to repay the horse in my own small way,” Dickinson’s statement said.

A native of Yorkshire, England, Dickinson trained the first five finishers in England's 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup.

In the U.S., he established Tapeta Farm in Maryland. Dickinson’s most acclaimed training feat came when he conditioned 1996 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Da Hoss to a repeat win in that race’s 1998 renewal at Churchill Downs, after a two-year layoff. Da Hoss was plagued with so many training setbacks while on the comeback trail that most trainers would have relinquished the notion of bringing him back to the races.

Da Hoss is familiar to Hoofcare and Lameness readers because the game colt raced his entire career with only half a coffin bone in one of his front feet.

Michael Dickinson is an eccentric personality known as "the mad genius". His turf training system includes strips of hilly terrain. He drives next to the galloping horses in his Range Rover and shouts encouragement as he observes the horses closely. He feeds his horses special treats like Guiness stout, free-range eggs, and organic grass--among other things--and may be remembered a few years ago for striding boldly out into the middle of Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby to personally check the surface before allowing his colt Tapit to run.

Dr. George Pratt, a noted engineering professor at MIT who is a specialist in impact surface reaction forces (especially for racetracks), assessed Dickinson's Tapeta surface and noted that horses working on the Tapeta™ surface experience one-half the impact as compared to running on a conventional surface. He said "It's like running on a living room rug." Dickinson is so confident of the surface that if a horse has a chip, fracture, or quarter crack while in training at Tapeta™ Farm, he will pay for the surgery to be done at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center.

Racing needs Michael Dickinson. I wish he could be cloned. Good luck to one of my heroes!

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