Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Not So Random Thoughts From a Non-Degenerate Gambling, Nor Casual Celebrity Publicity Whore But Actual, Real Everyday Horse Racing Fan


Ever since I saw the great filly Go for Wand tragically breakdown in the stretch at Belmont Park as she was about to collar the Argentine filly Bayakoa and stamp her place into horse racing immortality, my heart fills with anxiety over any filly that enters the starting gates. I don’t feel this way when I’m in my T-shirt and jeans watching races in California, but I do feel this way when I’m not watching horse racing in California.


This is because California uses a surface called Cushion Track. This surface is basically similar to Polytrack, a track made of polypropylene fibers, rubber and silica sand covered with wax coating. The surface has more bounce to it. This means that the horse doesn’t really have to pull her hooves up as she would if she ran over a conventional dirt surface. The track basically acts like a springboard, thus reducing wear and tear. The end result is fewer breakdowns.


In its initial season at Turfway Park in Florence, KY, there were 250 races run on Polytrack and 3 breakdowns. The previous year, Turfway Park used conventional dirt. There were 24 breakdowns in 250 races. Polytrack caused a dramatic reduction in breakdowns. The results weren’t a fluke. Though I don’t have complete statistical information I have noticed a dramatic reduction in the amount of breakdowns I have witnessed.

A hotly debated topic amongst railbirds, the debate over whether or not to switch over to Polytrack or its sister surface Cushion track has gained some level of national prominence. The conventional dirt surfaces are unforgiving, especially Churchill Downs, however the surface cannot be totally blamed for what happened at this year’s Kentucky Derby.


Eight Belles was a very talented filly that dominated her rivals with an air of cockiness reminiscent of her father Unbridled Song. However, what most stands out in my mind about the filly is her morning workouts. You see, most horses gallop in the mornings with a professional jockey who usually weighs around 115 pounds on board. Eight Belles used to gallop with her 170-pound trainer Larry Jones on board. In horse racing, whether or not a horse can carry weight is an accepted benchmark of her sturdiness; this dominating grey filly could carry weight.


What this all adds up to is yes, the death of some horses is attributable to the dirt tracks they run on, but not Eight Belles. I understand that the public loves a salacious story, but there is just no evidence to support the claim that Eight Belles was a victim of cruel mismanagement. She was probably more a victim of fate. If there is a silver lining to all of this, it’s that more tracks will make the switch that California has made. The trendsetters of American horse racing, the California Horse Racing Board, will one day be seen as compassionate caretakers of the sport rather that rogues.

The amount of breakdowns that the sport has seen over the years will drastically be reduced, and perhaps one day the sport will be returned to its former glory.


Yet in the end, there will always be an occasional Go for Wand or an Eight Belles. This is fate; there is no governing that.

0 painful displays of affection:

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