09/23/2010 12:33PM

Racing Surfaces Are Not the Problem

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The death of Pea Stone at Belmont Park on Wednesday serves as a reminder that the reason for the all too frequent breakdowns at American racetracks has far less to do with the type of surface upon which horses are running than with the breeding of the horses, their training and running styles, and the medication policies that put horses at risk every time they step out onto the track.
To argue the relative safety merits of dirt tracks as opposed synthetic tracks is an exercise in futility. Synthetics may be nominally safer, although they seem to cause track superintendents no end of trouble when it rains. Horses still break down on synthetics, however, just as they do on dirt tracks. The track at Belmont on Wednesday was perfectly safe, but that didn't help poor Pea Stone.
One of the main reasons for this dreadful situation is that we breed almost exclusively for speed in this country. One of the ways this is done is to breed bone out of horses' legs, making it easier for them to move rapidly. However, they are still carrying torsos similar in weight to what they were carrying back in the fifties and sixties, before the craze for speed began.
Heavy bodies and spindly legs is a recipe for disaster. And because we breed for speed, most of our races are run at sprint distances, and on hard dirt courses. Given the configuration of all American racetracks, horses in sprint races are reaching a peak of speed at just about the time they reach the first turn. And these turns are tight by any international standard. By contrast, most sprint races in Europe are run on straight courses, and on relatively soft turf courses as well. The pressure on the American Thoroughbred's legs on turns, especially in sprints, is murderous.
Add the masking qualities of Lasix and Bute, and things get even worse, especially with the painkilling bute, which allows horses to run through the pain that might be caused by any infirmity in their legs.
So instead of forever arguing over whether we should be racing of dirt or synthetics, we should be building racetracks with long straights and milder turns. We should also be running more races on turf, as that surface is much easier on a horse's legs. Yet all of the racetracks that have opened in America in recent years have been typical one-mile bandboxes with tight turns and short straights.
Already this season we have lost top dirt performers Eskendereya, perhaps the best 3-year-old of the year, Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, and Travers winner Afleet Express. One wonders when the carnage will end. It will certainly not come when Santa Anita re-installs a dirt track in time for their winter meeting on Dec. 26.

RCW More than 1 year ago
Good stuff, like everything you write! International racing is a superior product and has been for a long time. American racing needs some changes.
~Raina~ More than 1 year ago
Please, let's not forget about the jockeys that are also at risk because of these policies.
Earl Abraham Ola More than 1 year ago
REAL REASONS AMERICAN THOROUGHBREDS BREAKDOWN TB Times feature article Much has been written in the last year about why far too many American raced and trained Thoroughbred Racehorses breakdown, almost all of that has been written is missing the REAL REASONS AMERICAN THOROUGHBRED BREAKDOWN. My partner, Tom Ivers (who in 1983 authored two of the bestselling books on racehorse conditioning) “The Fit Racehorse & the Bowed Tendon Book” and I pioneered research in equine performance exercise science. We were the only researchers doing research on real racehorses, we had over 40 unsuccessful broken down racehorses to do our research on. We were the first anywhere to do bone, tendon and ligament density analysis, thermography for hot spots, heart rate monitoring, lactic acid and slow motion filmed stride analysis and advanced scientific provable training in Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Quarter and Arabian racehorses. While America’s Thoroughbred industry has ignored the results of our research, our Standardbred racing industry has run with our research and has benefited from it. Every year their racing times from their cheapest claimers to their graded stakes horses get faster, twenty (20) two-year-old starts is normal, Standardbred racehorse’s average over 100 lifetime starts, 200+ starts not unusual. Leading foreign Thoroughbred racehorse trainers have successfully advanced their training programs using our research. Here is the REAL REASONS AMERICAN THOROUGHBRED BREAKDOWN. 1. America’s “Composite Dirt Racetracks” are by necessity slanted down to the inside rail for drainage necessary to facilitate daily racing, plus our banked turns are slanted even more. Slow motion video clearly shows that the right legs of American trained Thoroughbred racehorses always hit the ground before their left legs. This situation is exacerbated by American Thoroughbred’s training and racing counter clockwise (left turn) only. Left turn only racing and training on slanted (one slant) racetracks is the primary cause of our far too high breakdown percentages. Human runners say that if they train on one slant only their ankles, knees and hips sore up quickly and they break down if they do not alternate the slant they train on or alternately train on flat surfaces. Human runners with two legs not carrying unnatural weight on their backs are far less affected by running on one slant than horses with four legs carrying unnatural weight. Slow motion video and head on race videos show clearly that almost every American trained Thoroughbred runs slanted slightly to the left, their left (near) front and right (off) rear legs are sore because they are racing and training on one slanted surface, especially important, because we train and race left turn only. Almost every American Trained Thoroughbred is unbalanced in its action; unbalanced racehorses break down! Their unbalanced action is further exacerbated by the fact that most American Jockeys and many exercise riders ride acey ducy placing their weight slightly off center on our racehorses back. 2. Composite dirt tracks do not have the natural rebound ability a natural surface has and slow motion video clearly shows that our American Thoroughbred Racehorses’ hoofs leave the ground from the hole their hoof makes, putting unnatural strain on the entire racehorses body. The new artificial tracks are an improvement in that they have a greater bounce factor than composite dirt tracks but they are proving that they are not as good as a natural surface. Artificial surfaces are proving not to be the panacea for stopping breakdowns many racing people believe they would be because Too much bounce is just as destructive and not desirable. Artificial Human tracks and artificial football field surfaces are tuned scientifically to have the same bounce factor as natural ground. 3. Equine and human Sports Performance Scientists have proven the ONLY WAY to properly build heart, lung, bone, tendon and ligament density in humans and horses is by repeated “race specific” fast workouts following a good warm up and fast workouts must be followed by a correct warm down or lactic acid flush. Very few American Thoroughbred’s are warmed up sufficiently, “none” have a correct warm down or lactic acid flush. Most Australian Thoroughbred Racehorses are breezed or fast worked 2 or 3 times per week. Some great modern Australian trainers employ multiple workouts (back to backs) twice a week. Back in the days of our iron American Thoroughbred racehorses that averaged over 100 lifetime race starts they worked both ways around the track, they were breezed or fast worked 2 or 3 times per week, fairly often their full race distance. Australia’s T.J. Smith MBE (world‘s most successful trainer, ever, anywhere), told me he developed the basis for his “muscle-and-bone” training techniques from watching, studying then improving the training methods of top old time American trainer Sunny Jim Fitzgibbons. T.J. Smith is the world’s only trainer to train 28 Derby winners, leading Australian trainer 32 straight years, etc, etc; in a drug free nation with larger racing fields he changed forever the way Australian, New Zealand and Asian Thoroughbred racehorses are trained. It is well chronicled that he improved EVERY horse from another trainer a minimum 10 racing lengths including imports from leading American and European stables. Mr. Smith breezed EVERY horse in his stable three-times-a- week; he had the soundest, most sensible, certainly most successful stable of racehorses anywhere in the world. I spent 14 months with Mr. Smith as a strapper (groom-exercise rider), I also worked for Hall of Fame trainer Harry Trotsek IL, Joe Bollero IL, Eclipse winner John Russell NY, Stanley Dancer (hall of fame Standardbred trainer) NJ, Barry Hills England, Harold Riley NZ (leading NZ Thoroughbred & Standardbred trainer). Australia's T.J. Smith MBE and the Queens trainer in England offered me their assistant’s positions. The modern American Thoroughbred Racehorse is breezed once a week mostly one quarter to one half the distance they are too race. Their heart, lung, bone, tendon and ligament structures never have sufficient race specific work to remodel those tissues to withstand racing pressures, most are unable to withstand the lactic acid buildup in their muscle structures causing them to short stride at race finish which is why the last quarter of most USA races is the slowest quarter while overseas it is mostly the exact opposite and it is why many American thoroughbred breakdowns occur in the last quarter of a race. 4. America’s Thoroughbreds suffer epidemic bleeding, throat and lung infections because they are housed at America’s racetracks and training centers in far too small fully enclosed double row stalls with no ventilation, no direct sun exposure breathing in thousands of times each day virus and bacteria laden air, plus they suffer far too often from arthritic conditions caused by standing unnaturally stiff for 23 hours per day. There is no sun or day yards at American racetracks and training centers as there are at NZ and Australian Racecourses and training centers and afternoon walks or swims are almost nonexistent here in America. 5. The lack of sufficient exposure to sun is another reason American Thoroughbred racehorse’s breakdown. Stress on a body causes small cracks in bone and the body responds by creating osteoblasts which fill those cracks with new bones. Vitamin D best absorbed by direct daily exposure to sun light simulates the osteoblasts to secrete osteocalcin. In a recent medical trial on humans those exposed to sufficient daily sunlight produced nine times more osteocalcin cells than people who have not had sufficient daily sunlight. Sales yearlings and two-year-olds are kept out of the sun to keep their coats from becoming dull and deprived of sufficient vital vitamin D at a crucial stage in their lives and this continues throughout their racing careers. Artificial vitamin D added to feed is not sufficient. 6. Heart rate meters, simple and easy to use, are the finest tool available to help stop breakdowns. Their use is far more common overseas, several leading Australian trainers’ heart rate meter information is transferred by satellite to equine performance scientists while letting their riders and trainers know instantly if something is amiss with their horses. A sudden spike in a heart rate will tell you if your horse is injured, sore, sick or about to tie up and a heart rate meter is the only tool that will tell a trainer accurately if he worked his racehorses too hard or not hard enough. Another tool racehorse trainers should consider using is on board thermometers monitoring their racehorse’s temperature. 7. In a 1979 interview I stated that toe grabs were causing racehorses to breakdown, because they inhibited the natural slide action of racehorse’s hoofs, for which I was soundly criticized by many, including several hall of fame trainers. That was many years before toe grabs got the attention they deserved. We try to compensate for incorrect training, housing, and management of our American Thoroughbred racehorses by injecting our horses with growth hormones, anabolics, Lasix (Salix), bute, glenbutteral, joint steroids, etc which overtime destroy our racehorses instead of providing them with correct race specific exercise, balanced training, daily sun exposure, afternoon exercise and twice yearly two or three week turnouts. Just before legal race day drugs where allowed the average American Thoroughbred started 54.3 times; today they average less than 17 lifetime starts and that figure continues to decline. In all the years I have attended races I have never once heard anyone say we should race and train both ways around, but we should because it will prevent breakdowns. It is simple for American racetracks to put in starting chutes at the other two corners of each racetrack and a right turn finish line at the other end of the homestretch. Unless we race both ways around equally on every race program we will never get American trainers to give their racehorse’s balanced training which has been scientifically proven to lessen breakdowns, scientific research says as much as fifty percent (50%). The only Americans who have ever said to me we should race both ways around are those who have enjoyed foreign racing and those people said they wish we had more interesting racing like that here at home, not realizing it will save many racehorses from breaking down and many American racehorse owners (95% + every 2 years) from quitting racing because they are ending up with far too many broken down racehorses resulting in ridiculous unnecessary vet bills. Earl Abraham Ola 352-465-7497 Equine Exercise Science Research Pioneer, Florida Farm Owner, International Racing Consultant. The Ideal 2 Year Old Training Program Pedigree and conformation are what you pay for at the sales. Once you have your prospects, don’t simply train them like everyone else – invest a little extra time and attention, not money for once, and you can gain an edge on the competition by the time you get to the track. HOW TO GET THE BONE DENSITY OF A RACING 4 YEAR OLD IN YOUR 2 YEAR OLDS My job is to comb through hundreds of pages of scientific studies put forth by the brightest minds in the equine industry and find things of use to my clients. By far, the biggest discovery was a specific exercise protocol for 2 year old horses hidden within the landmark Maryland Shin Study by David Nunamaker of the New Bolton Center for Veterinary Medicine: (http://www.ivis.org/proceedings/aaep/2002/910102000076.PDF) This study has been around for many years, yet my experience shows less than 10% of those who can benefit from the findings are actually putting the recommendations into practice. On a personal note, I work with an $11,000 yearling purchase that exhibits the same physiological ability of a Derby hopeful for an international racing concern that paid a six figure stud fee in 2008. My filly adds speed work at the end of gallops twice a week, while the regally bred colt is trained in a traditional manner of 2 mile gallops with a breeze thrown in every 7-10 days. Both will be at the races this fall, stay tuned for an update – but for now let’s look at how YOU can condition your two year olds for maximum soundness and earning potential in the upcoming season. Why is the practice of ‘legging up’ dangerous for racehorses? Because 70% of traditionally trained two year olds develop some sort of repetitive loading injury in the shins, which compromises soundness and earning potential. Old school trainers would often buck shins on purpose, in order to ‘get it out of the way’, rest and resume training. Although many live through this process and come out OK, Nunamaker found that over 12% of these athletes suffer saucer fractures later on in their careers. Standardbreds don’t buck their shins because they train and race in the same gait, a trot or pace. Thoroughbreds have shin problems because they often train at varied paces – many slower than race pace. Note for this excellent article by Earl Abraham Ola: The reason Standardbreds do not buck shins is because they do repetitive breezes twice a week. They breeze their full mile race distance 3-times or 6-times per week or they overtrain and breeze 1½-miles twice. This is race specific training which not only remodels their bones, tendons, ligaments, heart and lung tissues to withstand race pressures it also remodels their muscle fibers to work faster which is why race times for Standardbreds improve almost yearly from their cheapest claimers to their grade one performers. It is one reason the average TB races less than 17 times while it is not uncommon to see aged Standarbreds with over 200 lifetime race starts, why their average 2yo races about 20 times the average Standardbred averages well over 100 lifetime race starts. Back to article: They build ‘gallop’ bone, not ‘breeze’ bone. Therefore when breezes are introduced, trouble often arises. When galloping slower than a 2:45 pace, the cannon bone strikes the ground at an angle, and new bone rapidly forms to counteract this. However, at breeze speeds of 13sec/furlong or faster, the cannon bone strikes the ground at 90 degrees, with more dense bone forming as a result on the front and inner surfaces of the cannon bones – which is ideal for withstanding the rigors of racing. Please see below: Before we begin, I need to indentify two terms: classical training and modified training. Classical training can also be referred to as traditional training and consists of many miles of long, slow gallops designed to ‘leg up’ the 2 year old for a future at the racetrack. Most gallops stop increasing distance at 2 miles, and paces are kept in the range of 18-20 sec/furlong, or about a 2:30 min/mile. Breezes are introduced at a frequency of once every 7-10 days and range from 1F to 4F in length, with speeds of approximately 13 sec/furlong. Sound familiar? Modified training can be referred to as scientific training, as its specifics have been devised from Nunamaker, John Fisher DVM, and others through rigorous testing and evaluation of several hundred 2 year olds over the past 2 decades. The gallops typically are shorter, from a mile to a mile and a quarter, and speed work is introduced much earlier. Twice each week a gallop ends with speed work, starting with 1F in 15 seconds, and ending 3 months later with 3F in :40. Here are the study details with pictures: A – Group 1 – traditional training on a dirt track, this horse bucked his shins B – Group 2 – traditional training on wood chip surface, even less new bone than Group 1 C – Group 3 – control group turned out to pasture, cannon bone still mostly round D – Group 4 – modified training group, thick/dense bone on front and inside of shin E – Table of results – green line represents racing 3 year olds, our 2 year olds in Stable 4 (black line) demonstrate superior bone growth compared to this group of seasoned competitors, without even racing yet! After this initial study, Nunamaker and others went about testing their findings on a larger scale; where 226 two year olds were followed from 5 different stables over a period of 11 years. Stable 2, with frequent breezes and modified training, was found to reduce the likelihood of bucked shins by 98.6%. Training traditionally, Stables 1 and 4 had the largest incidences of bucked shins, with weekly breezing found to increase the chances of bucked shins by 36.4%. Even if they didn’t buck, overall development was compromised by the failure to build race-appropriate bone and tendon strength as a juvenile. So we now have ideal bone growth in our 2 year olds, imagine how this type of training similarly optimizes the condition of ligaments, tendons, muscles, nervous system, blood chemistry, capillarization of lung tissue, etc.? For instance, my 2 year old filly will make her debut without Lasix – as her lungs have been exposed to the pressures of speed over dirt in a very gradual manner throughout the past 4 months and the vet suspects, much like her bones, these structures will be well suited for racing. Modified 2 year old training at Fair Hill in Maryland Dr. John Fisher, DVM at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland has been fine tuning this protocol for many years within his own stable. Young horses are broken to ride in the fall and are able to gallop one mile in 18-20sec/furlong pace by the end of December of their 1 year old year. The principle Dr. Fisher operates under is that the bones of a young horse need to experience the strains associated with racing speeds as soon as possible so that bones can begin to remodel appropriately. A side effect of this practice is that all other systems of the equine body do as well, especially the tiny lung sacs that cause so many problems later on when they bleed (EIPH). Rick Arthur DVM has expressed the need for cannon bones to be elliptical in shape, rather than round. Thicker bone development is desired on the inside and front edges in order to better withstand the rigors of racing. Galloping at 18sec/furlong and slower exposes bone to a stretching, or shearing, type of tension while breezing causes compression like forces which foster bone growth that is ideal for racing. The message to take home here is simply not ‘more speed is better’ but that when you progressively load bones with exercise specific to racing you get an ideal result: bones as strong as a 4 year old, with soft tissues to match, according to Allen Goodship, PhD at England’s Royal Veterinary College. Details of Modified Training Protocol developed by Dr. John Fisher at Fair Hill Training Center: -Fisher Stage 1 Finish 2 gallops (TUE and SAT) with final furlong in :15 for 5 weeks. -Fisher Stage 2 Finish 2 gallops (TUE and SAT) with final 2F in :30 for 5 weeks. -Fisher Stage 3 Gallops are extended to 1.25 miles twice per week. Finish 1 gallop (SAT) with final 2F in :26 for 4 weeks. Finish 1 gallop (SAT) with final 3F in :40 for 3 weeks From ‘On Bucked Shins’ by Nunamaker, with respect to the above exercise protocol: “This training program has shown no increase in the injury rate of young horses. An excellent by-product of this training program is the mental development of these 2-yr-olds. Because of the very relaxed atmosphere of walking to and from the racetrack, these individuals exhibit no anxiety about their work. For this training program to work the rider cannot be in a hurry to get back to the barn and on the next horse. The 2-yr-olds are not anxious about speed work because it has been in their weekly schedule since the beginning of training. All the animals walk back to the barn. Walking is a great exercise that does not seem to negatively influence bone modeling or remodeling.” Another take on the same concept from Dr. Jack Woolsey, DVM: Distance Speed/Pace Total Time Frequency Duration 1F 15 sec/furlong :15 2x/week 2 weeks 2F 15 sec/furlong :30 2x/week 2 weeks 3F 15 sec/furlong :45 2x/week 2 weeks 4F 15 sec/furlong :60 2x/week 2 weeks 2F 13 sec/furlong :26 2x/week 3 weeks 3F 13 sec/furlong :39 2x/week 3 weeks 4F 13 sec/furlong :52 Every 5 days 2 weeks *31 breezes in 16 weeks, starting Jan. 1st and ending April 15th – conversely, traditionally trained 2 year olds may get worked from 2-4F on average 12 times before heading to the starting gate. Note to this excellent article from Earl Abraham Ola: Australia’s T.J. Smith MBE (world’s most successful trainer ever-anywhere) horses would have done *48 breezes over 16 weeks on a 6 week training, 2 week turnout regiment and unlike the horses involved in this study would have continued on a 3 times a week breeze their entire far sounder and far more successful racing career where they averaged a race every 10 days. Smith was leading trainer in a drug free racing nation, with larger race fields, horses conditioned like athletes, for 32 straight years, 28 derby wins, his 2yo stakes win % will never be equaled or beaten. Once racing every horse was turned out for 3 weeks every 6 months. His horses had an hour’s walk in a black top parking lot before training, a mile slow jog warm-up and a mile slow jog warm down after training (lactic acid flush), 2 hours in a sun pen every day, plus another hours walk in late afternoon. I watched him take unsound moderately performed, difficult to handle, USA imports from leading American stables and breeze them into contented sound racehorses; it is well chronicled in Australia that he improved EVERY horse from another trainer a minimum 10 racing lengths. His success was based on the fact that he knew how to keep a horse at a certain level of distance and speed breezing until it told him it was physically ready to progress. He never breezed a horse less than 3/8ths (3F). In the 14 months I worked for Smith I did not see one shin sore 2yo or one horse breakdown. His DRUG FREE racehorses were the most contented, soundest, most successful TB racehorses I observed in the 12 nations I worked with racehorses, certainly fitter, sounder, more contended, far more successful than any USA racing stable. Article continued: *Notice how speed is kept constant as distance increases, then as speed increases, distance drops back off. Excellent example of changing exercise variables to induce positive adaptations, in this case as one variable is increased (speed) another is decreased (distance) in order to avoid overtraining. This is the exact protocol I used with a client in the US who made a very modest purchase at Keeneland last fall. At first, local trainers told him he was going to ‘kill’ this filly with all of the speed work. Now these same guys think that he has a future stakes winner on his hands. The confidence that a young horse gets from being given achievable physical goals that progress logically is astounding. The Science behind the Results: The overriding principle of exercise physiology is that of Progressive Overload. Doesn’t matter if you train a horse, human, camel, or greyhound – every living being grows stronger when stressed in a progressive manner. By simply manipulating the variables of frequency, duration, and intensity – you force the physiological systems to adapt in an effort to survive, i.e. grow stronger. Another key scientific term is Specificity. The closer the resemblance of the training is to the competition, the better the results. Nunamaker proved this over the past 20 years: gallops build a certain type of bone, and breezes build another. It’s the breeze bone that is needed to race safely. ‘Legging up’ may very well indeed aid in aerobic conditioning as well as development of other soft tissue systems, but the long slow gallops of the past are detrimental to bone structure – which is the key system in any developing 2 year old thoroughbred. How to verify the program is actually working In order to objectively measure actual performance in the mornings, I use a heart rate monitor/GPS setup and calculate V200, which is the speed of movement when HR hits 200bpm, about 85% intensity for most horses. In effect, this is maximum cruising speed. I consult with hundreds of horses around the world and I see V200 numbers ranging from 16mph to 28mph. Typically 2 year olds in training range from 20-23mph. However, at the age of 2 this filly is now at 26mph, which is exactly where some 2011 Derby hopefuls are up at Saratoga – classically trained colts of course with ideal conformation and perfect pedigrees. This is what a gallop looks like on my software when a 2 year old on this type of training regimen is progressing nicely: Now here’s the tricky part – how to define when a horse is able to gallop a mile in 2:45 ‘comfortably’ and therefore ready to begin the program? Also, how can one determine if the twice weekly speed works are too much for the individual? Again I rely on the horsemanship of my customers, along with quantitative data gleaned from my HR/GPS equipment. If a horse typically shows HR of 80bpm when walking to the track but one morning just won’t drop below 110bpm – the workout is aborted. If that same horse typically gallops at a 2:30 pace on non work days and shows a HR below 200bpm I am happy, but if one day he suddenly spikes to 212bpm – he is taken off the work tab immediately. More specifically, I define ‘comfortably’ as being able to gallop the required mile in 2:45 and exhibit a recovery heart rate of under 120bpm within 2 minutes of finishing the exercise, with this measurement taking place during the gallop-out via onboard equipment. Once a youngster passes this ‘test’ he is ready to begin the conditioning protocol outlined above. In summary: Don’t take my word for it, but look to people like David Nunamaker, John Fisher, and Rick Arthur for ways to structure training of your 2 year old in order to give yourself an edge over the competition. Horses will still pull up lame on this training schedule periodically, as in any other regimen – but your success rate and ROI will improve considerably when you utilize science and technology to the maximum at a young age when your prize prospect can set the stage for a firm foundation to last throughout his/her racing career. Note to this excellent article from Earl Abraham Ola: Tom Ivers and I did this same research in the early 1980s we published about the same results and information; our American TB racing industry ignored this information just as they will ignore the above information and our TB racehorses will continue to break down unnecessarily and our TB owners will continue to leave the sport because they end up with broken down racehorses resulting in unnecessary vet bills. Australia's T.J. Smith MBE, the world’s most successful TB trainer, ever anywhere, had a superior, far more successful program to the one above and it is the one I advocate; it did incorporate, but greatly improved on the general idea of the research shown above. What the above partly misses is the added advantage of using science to cut down breakdowns and increase racing performance, i.e., heart rate meter monitoring plus lactic acid and muscle enzyme testing, etc. As long as we continue to allow dangerous legal race day drugs, i.e. Salix, glenbuterol, bute, etc, unbalanced left turn only training and racing on slanted man made composite dirt or artificial surfaces with unnatural bounce factors, our American TB racehorses will continue to have the world's highest breakdown percentages, the world's highest turnover of TB racehorse owners and the world’s lowest general population interest in horseracing. Research in Japan & Australia prove Salix is a performance enhancing drug that allows horses to run harder than their fitness level; it facilitates breakdowns, internal organ malfunction and causes America’s TB racehorses to take far longer than necessary to recover from a race or workout. The only way there will be any improvement in the way America’s TB racehorses are raced, trained, housed and managed is IF you America’s TB (racing) racehorse owners demand the right changes be made, because our racetrack owners/managers, trainers, training centers and breeders will never make the right changes unless you the people who put up the money that allows our sport to function; demand that those vital changes be made. Blessings. Earl Abraham Ola olae@bellsouth.net
andrew klein More than 1 year ago
Alan Shuback you are right on the money with your ideas about the breeding an the tracks in America. Even though I live in Alaska for last 47yrs up from St.Louis , Mo. I have always loved these wonderful animals an the way they move an on American tracks they do'nt move like they should on turf. I use to leave here in late fall way back in the '70's an work for Ocala Stud as a groom hotwalker an brood mare wealing handler an then I went to Hobeau Farms twice for two winters an worked with yearlings an it was interesting to say the least. To bad the yearlings can't go out in the fields of grass an romp around a bit to enjoy themselves, but fear of hurtin them is the concern. I love to watch the English racing cause its turf. Long distances too! With all this money owners pay for horses you'd think they'd do something with the horses an complain about the tracks an quit the different drugs. Anyway! it is ashame how wonderfull horses, like the great 2yr old Kantharos, went out of commission just training. I called the Stonestreet Farm to see how this horse was doing an the manager Gary told me the horse was ok...need to do more with these wonderful animals to be sure, cause they provide us with such wonderful entertainment. I'am gettin to be in my early 70's myself an I have not run for yrs on hard pavement or dirt tracks. I got more leg than horses do when you consider what the horse weighs. See ya!
bluegrassbasa$$ More than 1 year ago
Pea Stone---Raise a Native 3Sx5D. Great article I couldn't agree more.
KEN NUGENT More than 1 year ago
Well writen, well thought out, could not agree more.
Paul Matties, Jr More than 1 year ago
Mr. Shuback, I've been a long time admirer of you work with DRf and other media outlets, so I was surprised to read the scribble you spewed at us with this week in your blog. The contents of this article really struck a nerve with me, and I felt it could not be ignored. Shockingly, most of your facts are wrong. All your assumptions are wrong and even worse, the whole point of your commentary smells like European sour grapes over the failure of synthetic surfaces in America. First of all, to single out a horse breaking down by a long respected horsemen like Faustino Ramos or anybody for that matter is unfair. I'm sure the barn is heart broken and to randomly be the subject of further scrutiny is unjust. As any veternarian will tell you, "it (a horse breaking down) can happen to any horse at any time." I hate to simply say it's part of the game, because nobody is saddened more by these horrifying occurances than me, but to be truthful to everybody involved, including the horses, it is part of life. It's part of nature. Horses have always had "heavy bodies and spindly legs." That's what makes them beautiful. That's what makes them majestic. That's what makes them fast. Next to say, Belmont's turns are tight by any standards in this country or any country is ludicrous. I've studied track topographies and done pace and speed figures at tracks all over the world, and there is no one on this planet, who could successfully argue that Belmont has tight turns. It's shameful to even suggest it. To your point that Americans are speed crazy is also nonsense. Besides Europe, every racing jurisdiction in the world runs short sprint races. Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong kong have many more high quality classic sprint races than North America. Recent Australian horse of the year winners, like Takeover Target, Scenic Blast and Miss Andretti are all strictly sprinters. Even at the highly respected Hong Kong tracks, Sha Tin and HAppy Valley, they routinely have more races less than a mile at 1000, 1200 and 1400 meters, than races over a mile. The most revered horse in Hong Kong racing is Silent Witness and his best distances were 5f (1000m) and 6f (1200m). As far as this assesment that the breed is more fragile that unfortunately has been blindly accepted by many of the racing media, I would argue that it's false with no scientific proof or merit. It is not a result of breeding for speed or breeding horses who race on raceday medications, but it has to do with the advancement of modern veterinary practices, and the increased awareness and more sophisticated training methods used by horse trainers. The modern vet and trainer are far better suited to keep "sorer" or horses more prone to injury, racing at a high level. In the "good ol days", trainers would drill horses in the morning and the afternoons, racing them at a frequent rate. The whole process resulted in Darwin-like survival of the fittest (pun intended). The horse who could handle the rigors of horse racing would run every week and the ones who couldn't were vanned off the track, or even worse, peddled off to the killers at a young age, essentially weeding out the horses with physical ailments, regardless of talent. Today, trainers are astute at finding possible injuries, targeting them with modern veterinary practices (not BUte and LAsix, but advanced X-ray, and ultrasound equipment as well as state of the art soft tissue, joint and chiropractic therapies). After they are diagnosed, they are nursed along, letting these horses, who once would've been cast aside, flourish to their highest ability. That along with the ability of modern trainers to train horses to run extremely fast a few times a year, instead of consistantly semi-fast all year has led to a "faster breed" not a weaker breed. In a different sense, the horses racing are more fragile, because they, wisely, are handled more carefully, not because they are more prone to breakdown. Lastly and to me the most important, the blasting of dirt tracks by foreign media has to stop. One could argue the upkeep of some American dirt tracks is lacking, but that in no way is the fault of the surface. I will argue to no end the reason why Kentucky (America) is the "horse breeding capital of the world" is primarily because of racing on dirt tracks. For a century, dirt racing has produced truly the fastest horses, regardless of distance. Because of its nature, horses racing on dirt have to sustain a high speed over a significant distance of ground. The end result being the most talented or the fastest horse wins. Americans with their dirt racing know who their fastest horses are. Turf racing and now synthetic racing does not produce the same results and venues with only these surfaces are left many more questions than answers. Many times in turf or synthetic racing, pace and cover dictate who wins. Often, it is the horse who gets "the run of the race" or the horse who quickens best that wins. If you're skeptical, look at the results at a high quality neutral track like Nad al Sheba. Take their Dubai Sheema Classic and Dubai World Cup. Over the last decade, you could run that Sheema Classic 10 times and get 10 different results, every year. The same could be said for last year's World Cup on synthetics. Now, look at Dubai Gold Cup winners such as Cigar, Dubai Milennium, Street Cry, Invasor and Curlin. Were there any doubts you were watching the fastest horse in the world when they were winning? Expanding on the breeding argument, Federicio Tesio simply said the key to breeding is to breed the fastest sire to the fastest dam and hope for the best. And that's what North Americans have been doing for 100 plus years. Study the races on any continent, and American breeding lines dominate. Even after European, Middle East and Japan interests have raided our breed for close to three decades, they still come back to KEntucky. They do it becuase we know who the fastest horses are and contrastly, places that have turf and now synthetic racing do not. Synthetic racing has definitely lowered the quality of American racing, even though it's regionalized. Coincidentally, there was another horse who ran at Belmont on Wednesday in the first race. Nicole H was floundering in mediocrity running on turf and synthetic surfaces in California. After being shipped East, and running on dirt she has run two 100 plus Beyer Speed Figures, winning Wednesday's opener by 10 3/4 lenghts. It certainly makes you wonder how many Nicole H's there are in California and the rest of the world, too, really. When Santa Anita switches to a dirt track on December 26, I, for one, will not be worrying about rare unfortunate incidents that are beyond our control, but enjoying the wonderful sport of horse racing the way it is supposed to be, where the fastest horse wins.
S A G E More than 1 year ago
This response provides considerable food for thought given the factual references it offers. However, I will seek to underscore the fact that European buyers have for decades bought large numbers of American bloodstock - often for record sums. With the acquired stock they have founded several viable 'European' families and annexed many Classics and valuable Group races as well. The success of Coolmore was founded in the investments made by Vincent O'Brien at Keeneland in the late 1970s (Nijinsky etc) and continues to this day. Darley had similarly success forays into the American sales arena and today the likes of Japan (remember Sunday Silence), Turkey and South Korea among others continue to utilize and access American stallions to improve the quality of their racing stock and breeding programs.
ThomasMc More than 1 year ago
Contrary to Mr.Shuback's thinking america's trainers and breeders are some of the best in the world.Breeding a fast horse to a fast horse does not breed the bone out of a horses leg 'making it easier for them to move rapidly".That statement has no basis in fact. Sprinters like all horses come in different sizes, from huge raw boned ones to small light boned ones. It is fast versus slow twitch muscle fiber that regulates their speed. One the subject of track configuration and surface this article again makes strange statements.Horse break down on all surfaces. All dirt tracks are not hard all turf courses are not soft and all synthetic surfaces are not bad in the rain. What matters is the maintainence of the different surfaces. While the turns on a track do put more pressure on horses legs and straight courses would be easier on them , building tracks this way is often cost prohibitive. As for the masking qualities of lasix and bute I don't know of any masking quality of lasix and bute is an anti inflamatory not a pain killer. Bute is a very good therapeutic medication. Unfortunatly horses are going to break down if we race them.We need to do all in our power to keep it at a minimum.Trainers do this on a daily basis. Every one in the industry needs to work together to this goal not write opinunated articles on who's fault it is.
Brian Bavousett More than 1 year ago
I agree. I am a racing fanatic, however I do not watch races. Too many breakdowns.
John More than 1 year ago
Alan, I'm glad you stepped into the fray on this one. All of your points are valid. The masking qualities of Bute and other pain-killers is a serious issue. Pain is there for a reason. Run through it and bad things happen, even for humans. The more horses break down, the more that the public sours on racing. However, since there is no Czar Of Racing, I don't see things changing in the track and state fiefdoms around the country.
Robert Dorff More than 1 year ago
Mr. Shuback makes a variety of significant points and should be commended for doing so. Horses in the first part of the 20th century were much sturdier than the ones which followed. Being a native Californian who began going to the races in December 1945, I saw our tracks put total emphasis on speed. The reason was to call attention to record breaking times hoping to overshadow dismal results from state's weak breeding program. The eastern racing establishment looked down on the West. Because of our generous purses, Calumet and a few of the other giants of the east came here and beat up on the California horses. When Khaled and Swaps came along, that began to change. But our obsession with speed didn't. We all see the results. Robert Dorff
ron wasserman More than 1 year ago
I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed thoroughbred racing in the U.S. during some of its greatest decades, the 50s, 60s and 70s. As an adult, I owned horses, bred horses, was a jocks agent, DRF columnist, handicapper and avid fan of "the game." From Swaps, Round Table, Kelso, Dr. Fager on through John Henry, I guess I probably saw all of the great ones compete. Horse racing has hit rock bottom, in my opinion, and I scarcely follow the sport much these days. A shame really, as there was a time when we saw weekday crowds in excess of 30,000 in New York and California. Not to mention the 50,000-70,000 throngs which frequently embraced the weekend milieu at Santa Anita, Belmont Park and Aqueduct. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was a 2-mile affair; the great ones carried weight and took their tracks wet or dry; horses would race week-in-and-week-out...it was not uncommon for a top 3 year old to have a race between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Carrying weight over a distance of ground, taking on all-comers, and being successful over several campaigns was the mark of true greatness. Now it's drugs, synthetic tracks, the emphasis on speed, shorter distances, huge time gaps between starts and a weakening of the breed. Racing is currently facing an insurmountable number of problems which, again sadly, I am afraid it cannot overcome. Personally, I was never a fan of excessive racing for two-year-olds; never liked an abundance of sprint races; hated the idea of a starting gate (talk about injuries!); totally against all of the medication/drugs which have multiplied over the years; never a big proponent of synthetic tracks; never liked the idea of year-around racing. Sadly, racing in the U.S. has become primarily a means to justify Pick 6 carryovers, gigantic superperfetca payoffs and flat-out, lottery-type gambling. No more on-track attendance, just more "racinos" and the like. Another example of how man has destroyed something which was so beautiful.
calder72 More than 1 year ago
as an excercise runner for more than 50 years, (however counter intuitive) i have found that running on soft turf is more stressful on my legs than is running on hard pavement. How cerfain are you that the same is not true for horses as well?
victor fazio More than 1 year ago
I could not agree more with everything stated. Personally, i would like to see at least a 100% increase in the number of grass races in the United States and a greater percentage of them being routes. It seems to me that any change would have to come from the horsemen/women(ie. trainers and owners) requesting more such conditions(turf races) be booked and thus putting the pressure on the tracks to accommodate.
Kerry M Thomas More than 1 year ago
Excellent article, kudos to you mate! Here is something else you may also find interesting- http://thomasherdingtechnique.com/research/avfth-014-behavior-on-the-move.pdf Could it be said that perhaps the way horses are being trained.. in so many cases at least, here in America, is actually counter-productive...like running in circles.... this isn't NASCAR! I think you may enjoy some other pieces such as are found on my website under "giving back" A View From The Hoof.. be sure and check out "Breeding for behavior..." www.thomasherdingtechnique.com
sceptre More than 1 year ago
While I certainly applaud Mr. Shuback's general sentiments, I question some of his facts and reasoning. We are breeding more for precocity and speed which no doubt contributes to breakdowns. I am less certain that bone circumference or, more precisely, bone density, has appreciably changed through the years. Lastly, it's difficult to envision how one can design a racetack which incorporates both a far longer straightaway contiguous with more gradual turns without requiring a massive increase in total track acreage.
Brigitte More than 1 year ago
Do most injuries occur on turns in sprints? Never heard that. Belmont, the Big Sandy, is not a "one mile bandbox with tight turns and short straights". So Belmont should have fewer injuries, right? Many of the possible reasons for the breakdowns at our tracks are plausible, but there is little real evidence for them. For example, do today's thoroughbreds have spindlier legs with less bone? Just asking. The physics makes sense, but without knowing that horses today have less bone and/or that broken bones are correlated with less bone it's speculation. At least data is being collected on synthetics vs dirt but the differences have not yet reached statistical significance. They will, but the difficulty in getting to that point supports Schuback's idea that there are many other imporatant factors. Don't give it up as an excercise in futulity. It's important to get beyond speculation. Things won't imporve without more convincing evidence.
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
I find the varied and unique nature of many courses one of the main attractions of the European racing product. Unfortunately the nature of the American racing game is a long meet at relatively few locations. It is difficult to foresee substantial changes in that regard. At most meets on the US East Coast the turf course/courses are badly chewed up by meet end. We often labor under the scenario of rock hard turf course, a day of rain, washed off for two days, yielding for a day, and then back to rock hard firm the next day. This is a ridiculous situation, and leads to quite a bit of the grass racing being as pedestrian and unimaginative as it's dirt counterpart. I don't know if gentler turns and more grass would meaningfully reduce the breakdown rate, but we can totally agree that there is no more sickening site at the track than a breakdown. Go For Wand went down right in front of me and I'll never get the resulting scene out of my mind.
Jeff T. More than 1 year ago
Alan... I couldn't agree with you more. Your injury report in the last paragraph says it all. Americans will only change when they are beaten by European horses on the dirt at Churchill Downs in the Breeders Cup later this year. Oh wait, the Europeans won't be sending many horses to run on dirt at Churchill Downs, just the turf races. Bottom line, the "need for speed" simply cannot be extinguished with the logic that the Euros and Sheikh Mohammed have both embraced and demonstrated to be sound.......... ouch.
Stephanie More than 1 year ago
I totally agree. I would love it of someone built a straightaway turf course here in the US. I know with the "horse shortage" we don't need any more tracks but I would go out of my way to go to that track. European racing is so much more interesting to watch. I could go my whole life and never see a 6F race ever again and be happy. As long as we have an emphasis on sprints, drugs, and dirt the carnage will never end.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Alan...everything you say is true. And, in a perfect world, you'd hope that the people in charge of racing in North America would agree. The trouble is, though, that by in large they do not know anything about the sport that they are in charge of...and that is a major problem. Personally, when it comes to dirt, I believe that its a question of conscientious track maintenance. Butch Passero at NYRA and Butch Lehr at Churchill are knowledgeable guys. But the guys at Woodbine (where the splendid turf course is kept far too firm) and many other tracks haven't a clue. N.B. Its somewhat bizarre that Woodbine fired Passero. The bottom line is that less is best...fewer and better stallions and mares...fewer foals....fewer racetracks...fewer race days and fewer races per card.....fewer drugs and less medication... And the only things I'd increase would be turf racing and more distance races, apportioning the lion's share of purses to them, so that there would be good reason to be patient.
Al More than 1 year ago
I get your point but couldn't one argue that some of our most speed oriented stallions (More than Ready, Lion Heart, Big Brown, Unbridled Song (at one point)) and American speed pedigree influence have shuttled to Australia where they have the lowest breakdown rate in the world? The Aussies value speed just as much, if not more than the U.S. In reality I think it has to do with our medication policies than anything else. Ban Bute and Lasix completely and watch the numbers drop.
RonM More than 1 year ago
Alan: We breed for speed because speed carries better on dirt. Less dirt racing, less need to breed for pure speed. Synthetic tracks are just one meaningful way to reduce breakdowns, you have done a good job addressing the others. The fact that we aren't doing ALL these things merely shows how disingenuous the industry is being when it talks about "putting the horse first". On a related note, consider that of the top 20 highest purse races in the world, only a couple are run on dirt. This only reduces the global appeal of perceived "dirt" sires, and hence their monetary value. So more synthetics would tangibly reduce breakdowns and make our sires more globally marketable. And yet they meet with fierce resistance. And "coincidentally", the sport continues its decades long decline. "Put the horse first and make your product economically attractive to a global audience" It seems only the horse racing "elite" have a hard time understanding that premise.
Guy More than 1 year ago
I think the return to dirt at Santa Anita is ridiculous move, driven by sentiment rather than reason. The pro-ride surface was just fine. It was safe, fair and consistent - just like all the cushion and tapeta surfaces are. Anyway, I agree that surface isn't the real issue. You have touched on the real underlying problems - I doubt that many will agree, though.
takethat More than 1 year ago
These so called 'horsemen' are a disaster and will kill this sport. It's only a matter of time. http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/59000/upset-lingers-over-proposed-bute-regulation Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling, who chairs the National HBPA Medication Committee, said Sept. 22 the RMTC, of which he is a member, has long had a policy of requiring a “preponderance of scientific research” before it recommends changes in medication rules. He contends not enough work has been done on phenylbutzone, commonly called bute. Stirling said a major concern is that many veteran racehorses will end up with positive tests, the penalty for which will be loss of purse. “No thought was given to the cheaper horses that train on bute,” Stirling said. “A significant number will be over (the proposed two-microgram limit).”