There's been much ado made about Del Mar's decision to revert to dirt in 2015. There are the synthetic haters that truly believe Lucifer himself set these surfaces on this Earth to make racing worse. That opinion is surely overblown.
Conversely, there are also those that decry the loss of synthetic tracks as a direct threat to the welfare of the thoroughbred. With statistics like the ones Bill Finley espoused in the TDN of 1.22 deaths per 1000 starts on synthetic versus 2.08 deaths per 1000 on conventional dirt it certainly seems like this definitely is an issue. But as with so many statistics, what does it really mean?
Let's review which tracks have which type of synthetic surfaces:
- Del Mar (Polytrack)
- Keeneland (Polytrack)
- Arlington (Polytrack)
- Woodbine (Polytrack)
- Turfway (Polytrack)
- Golden Gate (Tapeta)
- Presque Isle (Tapeta)
- Ocala (Safe Track)
Ocala only runs one day of the year for the OBS meet, so they're not a true player. But let us examine the list.
Without question, Del Mar and Keeneland are two of the premier race courses in the country. Arlington is of the same ilk as the racing at Churchill, that is not premiere, but definitely high quality. Woodbine is much the same. The next three are basically run of the mill racing, with Presque Isle perhaps being the lowest quality. While I personally cannot attest to the exact quality of some of these, I think the broad strokes I've categorized them as is pretty good.
What I can speak to is that better race horses are of better quality and therefore less prone to catastrophic injuries. So we can say that approxmately half of the tracks with synthetic surfaces SHOULD see significantly lower rates. The Equine Injury Database that is run by the Jockey Club reports 95 tracks in North America participate in reporting injury statistics. Taking out the ones that report above, we have just about 90 tracks in the pool of reporting tracks. Of those, which are of the same quality racing as tracks 1-4 above? Off the top of my head and in no particular order they are:
- Gulfstream (winter meet)
- Santa Anita
- Monmouth (maybe)