This week we have seen a couple of reports regarding the safety of synthetic racing surfaces, or lack of safety of them. The Paulick Report has been on this story from the beginning.
In one study, done by Equibase, it was shown that synthetic was much safer than dirt. Later in the week, a new study said that dirt and synthetic were similar.
Both studies brought the kooks out, cherry-picking data to either support their cause, or defeat an opponents.
I think these studies should never have even be funded, because they are never going to tell us anything. However, since they are already funded we should at least do the right thing - when they are reported we should ignore them.
It's pretty simple why I feel that way. The data being used is specious.
How many trainers do you know with a sore horse, who sends it to poly, hoping it will help his horse be sound, or at least give it a chance to race. Did that horse break down because of the track? That horse is included in the poly breakdown figures, so I guess it was the track's fault..
If there are 40% less sound horses starting on poly, and 20% of those breakdown - three on a Sunday when the weather is humid and there was a 50 cent hot dog sale at the sixteenth pole - is that good, bad or ugly?
Everyone says that synthetic tracks have changed over and over again the past few years as they learn how to manage them. Is synth track A like B, or C? Was synth track A like synth track A of 2009? 2008?
If a tree fell in the forest, would anyone hear it?
Someone pass me a tylenol.
In another pool of bad data, the authors of one report conclude, as reported by Ray Paulick:
"Lost in the glaring spotlight of the track surface debate was the resounding endorsement in both the Equibase/TOBA statistics and the Equine Injury Database study involving 2-year-old racing.
Parkin said 2-year-olds on average were 35% less likely to suffer a racing fatality as horses aged 3 and up. Similarly, the Equibase/TOBA statistics showed a significantly reduced percentage of “career-ending did not finish” racing performances for 2-year-olds compared with older horses. It also showed that horses that began their careers racing at 2 were less likely to have a “career-ending did not finish” performance in subsequent years. In other words: racing a horse at age 2 is, on average, a net positive for the horse’s future soundness."
Let me get this straight. A two year old who races, is less likely to break down later. So two year old racing is good for horses.
No mention of the obvious: A horse who starts perfectly on schedule at two has no physical issues during his train down. He has no splints, no bone chips removed, no hairline fractures, no blown suspensories, nothing. So he is a pretty sound horse. Of course with a data pool of sound horses the breakdown rate will be less. The horses who do not start at two usually have terrible confirmation problems, have hurt themselves, or are infirm. They will clearly start later in life and be more likely to break down.
It's like doing a study on a hospital in South Central LA versus one in Fairbanks Alaska and concluding the staff of the Los Angeles hospital is really bad at taking care of gunshot wounds, because they have a lot more gunshot deaths.
Why do we do this in our sport, seemingly over and over and over again? We constantly seem to let the inmates run the asylum, based on politics or who knows who, or who screams the loudest. There is no leader to say enough is enough, and enact a policy based on science and what's right.
There are smart people in this world; really smart people. There are people looking at synthetic and dirt tracks with mechanical hooves measuring forces on our equine athletes, trying to help them live longer and sounder lives. There are people like Mick Peterson who has a Phd in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. He has been looking at this issue for some time now, and continues to study it.
Do we want to follow people like Dr. Peterson, and let him do his work by giving him time and money, and move this sport forward? Or are we going to all argue about statistics, when those statistics are a mess in the first place.
When my toilet is plugged I call a plumber. When we need direction on track surfaces and the forces they exert on living breathing horses, we should call an engineer like Peterson, not a guy with a database.