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Monday, October 19, 2009

Video: Breeders Cup Piques Interest in Surfaces; Instrumented Horseshoe for California Racetrack Surface Study at Keeneland

by Fran Jurga | 19 October 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

UC Davis's instrumented shoe might be one of the most expensive horseshoes ever made. The soundtrack is "Going the Distance" by CAKE.

Are you counting the days to the 2009 Breeders Cup, the international championship of Thoroughbred horse racing? If so, get ready to start counting the ways that Santa Anita's Pro-Ride racing surface will be interpreted as enhancing or handicapping the chances of the top runners.

The running of this year's cup at California's showcase racetrack has inspired a renewal of the debate of just how safe and just how fair to bettors and horsemen the artificial surfaces will be.

Perfect timing, then, for the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the University of California at Davis to release this little video slide show about its use of an instrumented horseshoe in their study of horse racetracks at Kentucky's Keeneland racecourse. This study was conducted on Polytrack, not the Pro Ride used at Santa Anita.

The study is comparing hoof impact on synthetic, dirt and turf surfaces. Three horses were tested. Hoof accelerations and ground reaction forces (GRF) were measured for the front legs with an accelerometer and a dynamometric horseshoe during trot and canter (not the gallop). Maxima, minima, temporal components, and a measure of vibration were extracted from the data. Acceleration and GRF variables were compared statistically among surfaces.

The dynamometric horseshoe contained piezoelectric sensors sandwiched between two aluminium plates.

Results of the study according to the abstract:

1. The synthetic surface often had the lowest peak accelerations, mean vibration, and peak GRFs. Peak acceleration during hoof landing was significantly smaller for the synthetic surface (mean ± SE, 28.5g ± 2.9g) than for the turf surface (42.9g ± 3.8g).

2. Hoof vibrations during hoof landing for the synthetic surface were American Journal of Veterinary Research (AJVR). Click here to read the abstract as posted by AJVR.

The debate is contentious enough that it will take a lot of studies of many parameters to quiet skeptics. The defection of the USA's top racehorse, champion Rachel Alexandra, has been attributed to her owners' distaste for running on synthetic tracks. Conversely, top European horses are flocking to Santa Anita and defecting from turf to "dirt" races with the belief that their turf races prep them for spectacular results at Santa Anita. Last year's Classic winner Ravens Pass followed that formula. The Bird cousins, Summer and Mine That, have relocated to Santa Anita and trained over the Pro Ride surface on Saturday.

Watch for more reports from Santa Anita as the surface debate is sure to elevate in the next two weeks.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. You only need to ask. Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is a between-issues news service for subscribers to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal. This blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a digest-type email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). To subscribe to Hoofcare and Lameness (the journal), please visit the main site,, where many educational products and media related to equine lameness and hoof science can be found. Questions or problems with this blog? Send email to


Anonymous said...

thank you for posting this, it is definately a teaser but i am looking forward to seeing and reading more of their findings. working for engineering firm has taught me to appreciate the engineering involved to study this. this clip does show some interesting results to me (vertical force) but i'll wait for more to be published.

Fran Jurga said...

Hello, Anonymous,

You can read the abstract of the article here:

I hope that will be helpful to you.

Nick said...

Wonderful clip. It appears to me that although the synthetic track has a lower peak force that force is exerted for a longer duration. I'm also curious about the cause of the spikes in the turf graph.

Hopefully more than the abstract will be made available. Thank you for another great post!