Monday, October 12, 2015

In wake of breakdowns, Keeneland issues results of track surface review

Keeneland Racecourse horse training in Lexington, Kentucky
Keeneland has the unique perspective of being able to compare racing statistics over two different surfaces in recent years. Here, a horse trains on the Polytrack surface, which was removed in the summer of 2014 in favor of a new dirt main track. (David Paul Ohmer photo)

There's nothing like a beautiful day of fall horseracing at Keeneland outside Lexington, Kentucky. Unless it's the dark flip side of that coin: the sickening news that another racehorse has broken down. In the first week of the Keeneland fall meet this year, three horses suffered varying injuries classified as catastrophic breakdowns– one during racing and two during training, ending their lives.

The recent tragedies at Keeneland are magnified by attention on the track as the host of the Breeders Cup at the end of the this month, which will be held at Keeneland for the first time. To accommodate the championship, Keeneland ripped up its all-weather Polytrack surface on the main track and replaced it with a dirt surface, which was used for the fall 2014 and spring 2015 meets.

One of the horses lost was Stonestreet's Rock Fall, a highly-regarded contender for the upcoming Breeders Cup trained by Todd Pletcher. 

Special testing of the racetrack surface has revealed no irregularity, according to a press release issued today by the racetrack. 

Keeneland shared news that Dr. Mick Peterson, University of Maine Professor and executive director of the school's Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, was on site this weekend, working with track officials to review testing and daily measuring procedures to ensure the safety of the dirt track. The review found that Keeneland’s dirt surface met all of the pre-meet test criteria and all maintenance had been performed in accordance with protocols developed for the track. 

The findings were similar to those reported in Dr. Peterson’s Composition and Performance Testing review, conducted just before the start of Keeneland’s 2015 Fall Meet. 

Dr. Peterson performs a review of Keeneland’s dirt and turf surfaces prior to the start of every race meet. In addition to the pre-meet testing, daily measurements are taken on both racing surfaces every race day by Keeneland officials and complete electronic records are maintained and reviewed by Dr. Peterson. 

“Keeneland, along with a small group of industry leaders, has made a commitment to advancing knowledge and providing the most consistent surfaces in the industry,” Peterson 
said. “By participating in the maintenance tracking system to measure and monitor the surface performance, Keeneland both defines the state of the art and is helping to advance our understanding of racing surfaces. When questions arise these records allow us to review all of the maintenance and operating conditions as well as the daily surface inspections, that help to ensure that the most consistent possible surface is provided. Because the racing surface is a critical safety system, all of the maintenance must be performed in accordance with best practices in the industry.” 

Keeneland’s 1 1/16-mile main track was converted from an all-weather Polytrack surface to a dirt surface during the summer of 2014, and racing first was held over the new track during the 2014 Fall Meet. Today, the dirt surface is among the most extensively researched and most sophisticated in North America, with data collected and monitored by state-of-the-art technology and equipment. 

“The safety of our horses and riders is priority No. 1, and we remain confident in the performance of our race track,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing W.B. Rogers Beasley said. 
“Our team works very hard every day to carefully maintain and monitor the race track.”

“The status quo is unacceptable to Keeneland when it comes to safety and other issues critically important to the future of our industry,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “We want everything we do here to be shared with the industry in an effort to benefit racing as a whole.”

“These equine injuries are complicated, multi-factorial events,” Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said. “The Commission conducts a mortality review for every exercise-related fatality. Information is currently being acquired and compiled for these case reviews.”

Portions of this article were extracted from a news release provided by Keeneland.

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