Moss not crazy about synthetics either

When the California Horse Racing board adopted the rule at its May 2006 meeting that California race tracks had to install synthetic surfaces in order to be granted racing dates, Jerry Moss was the only commissioner present who raised any objection at all. He wanted further study done. Racing executives the likes of El Halpern (CTT), Howard Zucker (trainer/CTT board member), Drew Couto (TOC), Craig Fravel (executive vice president of Del Mar), Ron Charles (Santa Anita president) and Darrell Haire (jockeys guild) all got up and spoke and supported the mandate.

Now, more than three years later, Moss is not only expressing mild concerns, but it appears he’s moved further away from the notion that artificial surfaces are good for the sport. This is pretty astounding too when you consider that Moss’ brilliant, unbeaten mare Zenyatta has won 10 of her 11 races over synthetic surfaces. It seems if anything he’d love the fake stuff and be extolling its virtues all over town. Not so.

Saturday at Hollywood Park, after Zenyatta raised her career mark to 11-0 with another superior come-from-behind performance in the $300,000 Vanity Handicap, Moss was asked if it bothered him that Rachel Alexandra’s co-owner Jess Jackson had alluded that Zenyatta was a synthetics track specialist, i.e. could only win on artificial surfaces. Of course, Jackson has never said anything of the sort, but Moss answered the question nonetheless.

“Is he implying that? I don’t know, I didn’t get that,” he said. “She won at Oaklawn (2008 Apple Blossom Handicap, she beat (Ginger Punch) pretty good, so I think that exonerates her from that premise.”

But Moss made it clear he wasn’t bothered by Jackson’s refusal to send Rachel Alexandra to the Breeders’ Cup in November at Santa Anita because Jackson doesn’t like “plastic tracks.”

“Quite honestly, he can say whatever he likes,” Moss said. “He owns a great filly and she’s doing well. She won very easily today (Mother Goose). I mean, I’m not too crazy about the synthetic tracks either so I don’t mind him talking up about that. Maybe it will serve a purpose, and hopefully we’ll meet somewhere. If it’s not the Breeders’ Cup, maybe it will be somewhere else.”

One Breeders’ Cup official believes Jackson’s assertion that Rachel Alexander will not run in the Breeders’ Cup is not cast in stone, that as the date (Nov. 6-7) draws nearer, he could change his mind. Remember, last year at this time Jackson was throwing out catch phrases like “been there, done that” in regards to whether Curlin would run in the Breeders’ Cup. He showed up and finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

9 thoughts on “Moss not crazy about synthetics either

  1. Art, I would like to know the latest stats on breakdowns at Santa Anita this year and the current Hollywood Park meet. It’s hard for me to have a strong opinion on the subject without having those numbers.

  2. Gordon,
    The rest of us would like to have those stats too. And the stats would also need to include breakdowns and injuries in the mornings as well, and that’s not even counting the number of soft tissue injuries that have cropped up since the synthetics arrived on the scene. Add that to the fact they have not: (1) increased the size of fields as they were supposed to do; (2) proven to be maintenance free as advertised; and (3) attracted top horses from all over the country as they were supposed to do. In fact, many owners are now leaving the state and citing synthetics as one of the many reasons. Del Mar probably does the best job of keeping track of breakdowns both in the mornings and afternoons. Other than the terrible summers at Del Mar when there were far too many breakdowns before the synthetics, I just don’t see a huge difference in breakdowns since the synthetics arrived. And what Del Mar needed most of all was a new base, which was installed when they put in their new Polytrack surface in time for the 2007 meet. It’s only my opinion, and it’s an opinion arrived at after nearly two years of observing and talking to many in the industry, but I think the CHRB’s mandate was an overraction to the Barbaro breakdown in the 2006 Preakness. I don’t think you’ll ever see a synthetic track at Churchill Downs or any of the New York tracks, which include Belmont, Saratoga and Aqueduct.

  3. Art, I think you really hit the nail on the head with this comment:”and that’s not even counting the number of soft tissue injuries that have cropped up since the synthetics arrived on the scene.”

    I think this is the real negative to the plastic and almost no one is talking about it. I have no idea what the true numbers are, but even if on-track breakdowns are a tad bit lower on the synthetic, that only tells part of the story. How do we account for all the horses that you simply never hear from again — due to the non-life threatening injuries they sustain on this stuff?

    As a small-time owner, I can tell you that this is the kind of thing that runs you out of the buisness. Folks like me can’t afford a stable of $15-25K horses that can no longer run due to the constant nagging injuries seemingly caused by the safer track. It only ends up pushing the smaller owners out of the business.

    Jess Jackson is 100% right in asserting his rights to run or not run whereever he feels is best for his horses and his investment. It really galls me to see people who are not in this business try to tell him what is best for his horses or for the sport. I hope he holds firm and boycotts the BC this year. Maybe the BC (and hopefully the CHRB) people will then wise up and go back to dirt and grass.

  4. How about some comparisons between dirt tracks and synth tracks built roughly in the same era? Gulfstream has a pretty new surface. How does Cal synth stack up vs. Florida dirt on fatalities, soft tissue injuries, etc…?

    Comparing a crappy old dirt base that needed to be replaced with a new synthetic track is hardly the way to measure this. All the synths should have shown improvement over the 50-year-old dirt tracks they replaced.

  5. How soon we all forget. When we had dirt tracks we complained about how hard the tracks were. Then, the injuries were bucked shins and soft tissue problems in the front legs. Now under synthetic, we see hairline fracture of the hind tibia and back problems. Trainers saw synthetic as a way to train a horse harder then they did on dirt. But, the question now what are you going to do about it? Will this unite horsemen to speak as one voice? Or will we see infighting that leaves the board (CHRB)and the tracks no choice but to stay with what we got. Less we forget, good horses can run on anything. Zenyatta has proven it, so has Midnight Luke, Enstien and even Rachael Alexandra who won over Keeneland’s Polytrack by 4 lengths. We will see if Jackson can pass up the $3 million purse and a chance on November 6 when the whole world is watching?

  6. Anyone blaming the rapid decline in CA racing on synthetics does not understand the depth of the problems in CA. Spend a few minutes talking to Maggi Moss who came out here set up a base a couple years ago, she was horrified and packed up shop fast. I talked to her for 5 minutes about it, she could have gone on for 10 times as long. Talk to Cobra Farms Gary Bisantz, who now runs at Arlington and NY. Golden Gate is a far healthier product than pre-synthetics. Woodbine and Arlington are doing fine. So many problems in CA you could write a book, track surface would not make the Top-10 list.

  7. I have a colt in training back east at Fair Hill Training Center. They have both Tapeta and dirt surfaces and because he is coming back from a ligament injury my trainer will not work him on the Tapeta because it’s known that synthetics are not good for soft tissue. Period. If you have a good dirt surface on a solid base you can’t get a better surface for a thoroughbred.

  8. How about we take all the nitwits that are on the CHRB board right now and remove them, start from scratch. Then, take all the people that think that the synthetics tracks haven’t hurt Cal racing and ship them out as well. Then, maybe then, California will have a chance to survive.

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