Another breakdown at Del Mar

Lost in the aftermath of Zenyatta’s dramatic victory in the Clement Hirsch Stakes on Sunday at Del Mar was the fact another breakdown occurred shortly after the start of the 10th race — a maiden claiming event for colts and geldings.

Endless Moon, with Alex Solis aboard, broke down and fell leaving the chute, and Captain Cash struck the fallen horse and threw jockey Aaron Gryder. Endless Moon fractured both his left front and left hind legs and had to be euthanized — the seventh casualty of the meet over these supposedly safer surfaces. There have been three fatal breakdowns in the mornings and four during live racing. A seventh horse broke down on the turf and had to be euthanized.

Captain Cash appeared to have injured his right foreleg, according to Del Mar publicity, and was apparently taken back to his barn. No immediate word on whether he was going to be OK.

Luckily, both jockeys escaped serious injury. Both were back in the jocks’ room shortly after the race. Solis left the track under his own power, while Gryder was taken off on an ambulance. He was complaining of a sore left hand afterward.

I’m not blaming these breakdowns on Del Mar’s Polytrack, but I am wondering why we were all told these tracks were going to be safer when they clearly are not. Breakdowns keep happening, like they will over any surface because these magnificent animals are so fragile, and the long-term effect of all the soft-tissue injuries that are now popping up on synthetics is unknown.

Please, whoever ends up owning Santa Anita, let’s go back to dirt so we’re not the brunt of jokes from other parts of the country. What should have been an experiment with horses using artificial surfaces as training tracks has cost the state’s race tracks more than $40 million. And you can’t put a cost on all the bad publicitiy and sour reviews from around the country.

8 thoughts on “Another breakdown at Del Mar

  1. Andrew,
    True, but if the worst happens and Captain Cash does have to be put down, you can’t blame anybody on that one. He just freakishly got injured because he couldn’t avoid a fallen horse. You and I both know those types of injuries, as sad as they are, are going to happen and horses are going to suffer breakdowns no matter what the surface. Horses are just too big and strong for those spindly legs.

  2. A “safe” dirt surface with stricter mandates on drugging and “positive” tests is what is needed to cut down on all of this.

  3. I’m wondering when executives in the industry will realize that the natural dirt surfaces had nothing to do with the breakdowns. It has to do with the unsoundness that has overwhelmed the Thoroughbred bloodline. Owners want flashy, fast horses nowadays, not sound horses. They want a colt that looks great for about a 10 race career, and then they can retire them to stud (where the real money is).

    The synthetic “revolution” is utterly absurd. What kind of surface do you think a horse would be safer on? A natural dirt (or grass) surface, which is basically what horses in the wild have run on for hundreds of years. Or, a man-made synthetic, silicon-based track, that is nothing like any surface a horse would encounter in nature.

    Also, the fact that no major real race testing was done beforehand, or the fact that there is no standard in synthetic surfaces (i.e. Polytrack, Cushion, Pro-Ride, Tapeta), is astounding. The only people who made out good on this are the synthetic surface manufacturers, who are laughing on the way to the bank.

  4. Winning,
    I could not agree more. The industry officials, in this case most members of the California Horse Racing Board, knew dirt was not the main problem. They just felt they needed to do something following the terrible, unacceptable season Del Mar had in 2006 in terms of breakdowns and also on the heels of the Barbaro tragedy. They over-reacted, plain and simple. Instead of digging up all the tracks, replacing the bases and installing top-quality dirt, they were sold a bill of goods by the synthetic track folks. This will someday be remembered as the synthetic tracks era and asterisks may apply in some instances. The artificial track mandate was a very poor decision, one that the CHRB chairman at the time, Richard Shapiro, has since admitted was wrong.

  5. Art,

    Does the track surface really cause the breakdowns? I read the stewards minutes just from the California tracks and so far I have found the horses that are breaking down or are not finishing a race for another reason such as stopping suddenly have one thing in common and that is its the same trainers over and over whose horses are breaking down.

    Santa Rosa this year on closing day had three fatalities. Del Mar I believe has breakdowns no matter what surface they have and along with the trainers overmedicating its also possible that there is a problem with track maintenance.

    Horse racing officials all across the US need to weed out the bad trainers, owners and jockeys and if horses are not sound they should not be racing. Track veterinarians need to take more responsibility for allowing horses to race that are not sound and be held accountable for allowing those horses to race.

  6. Hi Eileen,
    No, I have never written that the polytrack surface at Del Mar was responsible for the 10 fatal breakdowns over the main track so far this meet. My point is that there is no proof that they are safer than a quality dirt surface, despite claims to the contrary when they were installed at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar. I agree with all your points. They are all valid concerns.

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