News item: Two more horses broke down during morning workouts over Del Mar’s main track on Thursday morning and had to be euthanized, meaning there have been nine fatalities during the first 22 days of this 37-day summer meet. A 10th broke down during a turf race earlier in the meet and was euthanized. The total number of fatalities surpasses the death totals at Del Mar from last year (eight) and 2007 (six).
Reaction: Del Mar and every race track in the state needs to take a hard look at their surfaces and strongly consider the installation of safer, gentlier tracks. Oh wait, we already went down that road, didn’t we?
Del Mar, on the heels of a terrible 2006 meet in terms of fatalities and the Barbaro tragedy in the Preakness, installed Polytrack before the 2007 season because — we were told — it would reduce deaths and injuries. We were told they were maintenance free. We were told they would attract horsemen from all over the country. We were told they would lead to larger fields. We were told they would cure world hunger … well, the synthetic proponents didn’t go that far, but you get the point.
So far, everything we have been told has turned out to be false. Correct me if I’m wrong, but has Saratoga and its dirt track been beseiged by so many fatal breakdowns during its current meet? And the state of New York didn’t just waste $40-plus million on the installation of these “safer and kinder” surfaces.
Oh yeah, and want more good news? If you’re a horse player, tread lightly next week at Del Mar. On Monday and Tuesday, the track may be power harrowed, meaning we don’t know if a parade of come-from-behind long shots will pop up or if the speed bias that has existed for much of the summer will continue to hold true.
As respected trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said on an NTRA teleconference recently: “If I knew what horses preferred (synthetics) I might quit training to become a gambler, because I never know who’s going to run well on it or how they’re going to run.”
To be fair, McLaughlin likes his horses to train on the artificial tracks, but abhors running them over synthetics. He believes the fake tracks won’t be around much longer.
“I think that before we see more synthetics tracks, we’ll see synthetics going back to dirt,” he said.
Meanwhile, Richard Shapiro, the man who led the California Horse Racing Board during the time synthetics were mandated, pleaded no contest Tuesday to misdemeanor charges of vandalizing an owner’s car with a key. Shapiro was ordered by the court to pay $6,800 in damages to Jerry Jamgotchian, a frequent critic of Shapiro and the horse racing board who obviously got under Shapiro’s skin.
Yes, Jamgotchian sometimes goes overboard in his criticism of the CHRB and the California racing industry as a whole, vilifying his targets with such rancor that his messages that are often valid most times get lost in the ugliness of his attacks. But one thing is clear — his rants against artificial tracks have been right on. They never should have been installed before being tested as training tracks first.