It’s not the Surface, Stupid: US Turf Runners 300% More Likely to Breakdown
The ongoing ‘synthetic vs dirt’ debate concerning thoroughbred safety is a simpleton’s way of investigating the problem, or perhaps that of a Polytrack salesman. Of course there will be more skeletal injuries on a harder surface that lead to more catastrophic breakdowns. The injuries suffered on synthetic are more soft tissue in nature and have a lower incidence of fatalities.
But all of this misses the main point: even when controlling for surface, the US is abhorrent when it comes to fatal thoroughbred injuries.
According to the US Jockey Club: the US fatality rate on turf over a recent 2 year period is 1.74 per 1,000 starts while a retrospective study finds the Australian fatality rate on turf over a 7 year period at just 0.6 per 1,000 starts. That’s a very statistically significant difference.
The US data is all over the place, most recently the New York Times, so here is the Australian piece for your perusal (if you cannot download email me for a .pdf copy):
Last year in the Eclipse award winning piece from Bill Finley entitled Do We Need a Sturdier Racehorse, one viewpoint addressed the too high injury rate in American thoroughbreds as being the result of a ‘management’ factor, not breeding for speed, not surface composition, etc. This management factor is indeed the culprit, and it encompasses several things concerning how we condition, campaign, and medicate our racing stock here in the US.
variable USA AU
Turf breakdowns/1,000 1.74 0.60
Avg. daily exercise 15min 45min
Avg. weekly breezes <1 >2
Racing frequency 1x/month 2x/month
Raceday medications yes no
For once I don’t believe additional biased commentary from myself is necessary, numbers don’t lie – only people do. Hell, elite Australian runners routinely race 2x PER WEEK, even at the top levels of the game. We used to do that in the US, that’s why we have a race at CD the week of the Kentucky Derby called the Derby Trial – now better known as the Preakness Trial.
I’ll leave you with a description of a typical Australian racehorse workout recently gathered from one of my readers:
“I do interval training 7 or 8 days out from the race, with 3 reps at 32kph on a 4 degree incline on my treadmill. Each rep is 2min in duration with a 2min rest between.
Then a hard 800m gallop out (breeze) on a Tuesday before a racing Saturday.
I also walk him for 20 mins in afternoon each day for 2000m at 4 degrees incline, speed 6 to 7 kph.”
Compare to the standard American week of a couple 1.5 mile gallops on the flat, and rarely, if ever a strong blowout 3 days before a race. Who is more fit for the task at hand?
We used to do some of this stuff here in the States in the not too distant past, does the name Carl Nafzger ring a bell?