Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Synthetic Rant of the Day

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."

Say what?

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.


That Blog Guy said...

IF it is true that horses that race at two are less likely to suffer breakdowns when they are older, it is only because most of the two year olds that started which would have broken down when they are older either broke down at two or were ruined that they never make it back to the track when they are older.

Two year olds are not mature. There is no way racing two year olds can be benefical. Sounds like someone manipulating the statistics to substantiate racing two year olds.

PEM said...

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Love the analogy between Fairbanks/South Central as related to 2 year olds on the track. Let's go a step farther---begin racing at 1--or as weanlings. They'll probably race well into their 20th year!

Personally-seems to me poly is more dangerous. Purely my own view--but based on the fact I had a horse I really like go down and get the green needle on poly---never had it happen on dirt. Maybe it was just his time...but there will always be something that eats at me--in the back of my mind--did we do the right thing by putting him on that surface (he trained well on it and had run well a couple times) or was it a mistake after all his dirt racing?

And of course I despise handicapping races on plastic-and I don't think I'm flying solo on that POV.

But bottom line--your argument is well stated. Whoever is trying to push their personal surface will drag out reams of garbage stats and create an argument that has nothing to do with the question at hand-both plastic and God Made type surface alike. Better off with some sort of engineer type flipping the coin.

Better yet--place the data in front of a sharp 11 year old without any bias either way--there's your best candidate for King Soloman.


The_Knight_Sky said...

Pull The Pocket wrote:

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.


Ha ha. Point taken.
From the very outset of the "synthetics revolution" I have been skeptical of these reports.

This has been a near complete waste of funds contributed by the bettors.

Can you imagine how good California racing would be if they had used an aggregate total of $80+ million on synthetics surfaces and used it towards building a SuperLab testing program in that state?

It would finally address the root of the problem of fragility in that region.

As a bettor of Cal-racing I am (not) looking forward to a takeout increase to fund Santa Anita's makeover. That would be another nail in California's coffin.

Superfecta said...

Actually, there's a lot more data to support the 2-year-old racing=safety conclusion - it's just that the racing media doesn't read the right scientific and veterinary journals. There have been good studies for years demonstrating that younger horses undertaking the kind of constant exercise that training to race and racing at 2 simply have better bone mass as a result of that sort of exercise at that age - horses that skip that foundation can't ever catch up. It doesn't mean all horses who began racing later are going to break down, of course, but those with a solid foundation when their bones were still modeling have stronger bones - simple as that. I suspect if you did a historical comparison of racing and training patterns, you'd also see that the modern pattern of limited racing and training has also contributed to horses with weaker bones - sure, there's a breeding element, but there's a major physiological one as well.

Back to my scientific journals...

Unknown said...

In summer 2008 racing industry leaders sat in front of a Congressional subcommittee while elected officials demanded answers on the safety of two-year-old.

PETA routinely lists "end two-year-old racing" among its demands for the industry to be safer for horses.

Now we have data that suggests two-year-old racing isn't harmful at all. What's wrong with that?

MH said...

Leave it to The Knight Sky to turn any topic into a "California Racing Sucks" rant. Is there a universal "Ignore" button for the Internet?

Anonymous said...

"The horses who do not start at two usually have terrible confirmation problems, have hurt themselves, or are infirm."


I've got one word for you: ZENYATTA

Maybe the REAL problem here are the PEOPLE "training" the horses and the greedy owners who insist on pushing them. GOD BLESS THE ZENYATTA CONNECTIONS FOR DOING THE RIGHT THING FOR THE HORSE!!
Gee, what a concept.

Two year olds racing is a very bad idea. There are very very few who are grown/matured enough to survive racing at 2. Check the data on that one.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone taken a look at field size lately? Thought Poly was going to help with that. I'd say it has hurt. Very obvious that they are not breaking down "in the Race", AND Not coming back good after the race. I have one horse in training and I promise, she WILL NEVER RUN ON POLYCRAP.

Nick said...

I was going to comment about the data out there on the benefits of racing at 2 but I see Superfecta has beaten me to it. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Pull the Pocket said...

Note: Dr. Bramlage's two year old testimony is here regarding early training.

Just for clarification, I take no issue with that at all. The two year old issue in my post was simply about the grand canyon jump based on stats released yesterday.

Thanks for all the comments.


PEM said...

Must back MH's comment about TKS constantly harping "California Racing Sucks".

Let it go Norm. We don't need to hear if from you anymore!!!

Why? Because we already KNOW it does!


sidfernando said...

Superfecta had good info on 2yo bone development and modeling, and it is true that many mature 2yos benefit; in the case of Zenyatta, she was obviously a large, gawky, mare that needed time to grow into her frame. same held true for the 17-hand Forego, who didn't race at 2 (he also had leg problems) and needed the extra time to mature, compared, for example, to his contemporary Secretariat who was mature and sound enough to develop and thrive from the 2yo program. Both were top horses and between them had HotY from '72 to '76, but Forego played catchup at 3 (4th Derby; he did, however, make 18 starts at 3, and by 4, 5, and 5 he was Hoty.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that the cherry-picking of data is ridiculous. There are so many different kinds of poly and they, like dirt and turf surfaces, are subject to the quality of their maintenance. On the topic of 2yo's in training/racing, I have 3 2yo's in training on a poly surface. The turf breds love it and the dirt horse is struggling. Gee, here's a bit of data, they are all individuals and their training and racing schedules must be adjusted to meet the needs of each individual. That's why trainers get the "big bucks."

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