Earle Mack was right. The industry mired in this crisis cannot ignore the most obvious solution to its problems, which is synth tracks.
Mack wrote that in a Executive/Editor appeared in this publication last week. If you haven’t read it yet, do so now. It is strong, clear and logical and written by a person with a degree who asks us to respect his opinion. He is a horse owner, breeder, former US Ambassador to Finland and a smart and successful businessman who clearly loves the sport and doesn’t want it pushed to the brink of extinction. . It might be the most important story you’ll read all year.
“The onus is on horse racing’s governing bodies, influential track directors and all key stakeholders to regroup the transition to synthetic tracks,” he wrote. “The public endorsement and commitment to safer racing conditions will signal the beginning of the transformative change our industry so desperately needs.”
The 12 deaths at Churchill Downs created a dangerous firestorm unlike anything the race had ever encountered. We just think the problems at Santa Anita in 2019 are bad. It’s an ugly story but largely a California story that doesn’t resonate with the national media. This time, we’re talking about the most famous racetrack in the country, the GI Kentucky Derby and two Derby deaths under the card.
This is a story that has been widely covered by major media outlets across the country and has led to a public debate: is our sport inhumane?
How do we answer that? The public no longer wants to hear about how loved these horses are by their owners, trainers, grooms, or that they are pampered and cared for as best they can and that they are made to run. What they want is a significant reduction in the number of deaths if they don’t want to stop together.
In recognition of their merits, Churchill Downs, the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission stepped up and announced that changes are being made. Their effort is a real and concerted effort to do the right thing and get to the bottom of what’s going on at Churchill. Moving the remainder of the Churchill meeting to Ellis Park was a drastic step. Considering the widespread opinion that there’s nothing wrong with the surface tracking Churchill, you could argue that’s overkill, but shutting down Churchill is a victory in the public relations battle them, and that’s what matters. The days when the sport ignored this and we were told that “it’s part of the game”, thankfully, are over.
But that’s not enough. The sport must do all it can to alleviate the problem. And it’s not. And that won’t happen until synthetic tracks replace dirt tracks throughout the sport.
Yes, death also occurs on synthetic surfaces. But they are much safer than dirt roads. According to the Equestrian Club’s Equestrian Injury Database, there were 1.44 deaths per 1,000 people starting in US land races in 2002. On aggregate races, this number is 0.41. That means a horse is three and a half times more likely to die in a ground race than in a synthetic surface race. Dirt tracks are the most dangerous we have, but they are still the core product of the sport.
Noting those numbers, Mack wrote, “…clear and unsettling statistics call for a change in thinking. We must abandon old rules and adopt new methods that prioritize the safety and welfare of our noble equestrians. The benefits of synth tracks are not just guesswork; they are a proven fact.”
However, races on synthetic surfaces are still a small part of racing and Keeneland, Santa Anita and Del Mar gave them up too quickly, returning to the stain after a short time when they were at both. three race tracks.
Mack called on Churchill Downs to lead the way. Not only does this story revolve around those race deaths, but the company also owns the sport’s most important asset, the Kentucky Derby. Mack reasoned that if Churchill took the lead and transitioned to synthetic surfaces would create the necessary domino effect. How about we go a few steps further? The three Triple Crown races will make a joint announcement that in the future the Derby, GI Preakness S. and GI Belmont S. will be contested on synthetic tracks starting next year. Breeders’ Cup should announce that starting from Breeders’ Cup 2025, only racetracks with synthetic tracks will be considered venues.
It is understood that this will cause a major change in the economy of the livestock industry, a powerful and influential component. There are stallions worth tens of millions of dollars and that’s because they make top quality ground horses that are capable of winning races like the Derby and the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic. If that power was taken away by finishing the land race then their value could be greatly damaged. That will never be an easy thing for the top stud farms to accept. But they can adjust. It will take time, but a new group of stallions capable of producing horses that win the highest levels on synthetic tracks and for that matter the grass courts, will take over.
And farms, like every other part of the sport, need to consider what the alternative is.
Mack writes: “If we do not take decisive action, the Triple Crown and horse racing itself could soon be mourned as vestiges of the past. “Animal rights groups, encouraged by every horse death, are gaining attention in their campaign against horse racing. Calls to ban or severely restrict the sport grow louder with every life lost. We can’t lose this race for the soul and survival of our sport.”
Is this sport sure to continue? Perhaps for the first time in its proud history, we really don’t know the answer. Where will the race be in 25 years? Will it go the dog racing route? It’s okay if we do the right things now, before it’s too late. The sport has to become safer and that has to happen now. The best way to do that is to end the land race.