02/05/2007 1:00AM

Turfway examines injury rise on Polytrack

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Horsemen and officials at Turfway Park said Monday that they are closely monitoring the Polytrack surface at the Florence, Ky., track, where more equine injuries apparently have occurred this winter than during the same time frame last year.

Although comprehensive figures are not available, several trainers said more injuries than they would like have been diagnosed in recent weeks during morning training or following races. So far at the winter-spring meet that began Jan. 1, there have been two catastrophic injuries to horses during racing programs. Last year, there were no such injuries during the entire winter-spring meet, which runs through early April.

At the holiday meet in November and December of 2005, according to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority and Turfway, there were three fatal racing injuries, while that number rose to five at the holiday meet in November-December 2006.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, and Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park, both said Monday that they believed an increase in training and postrace injuries might have stemmed from revisions made in the Polytrack last fall. In an attempt to reduce kickback and slightly quicken the surface, the composition of the top two-inch layer of Polytrack was altered to include more wax, sand, and smaller rubber bits. The original recipe, which still lies just beneath the top layer, used a higher percentage of carpet fibers and larger rubber bits and a lower percentage of wax and sand.

According to trainers, this newer mix tends to "ball up" and adhere itself in clumps to horses' hooves, creating potentially hazardous conditions for horses and jockeys, especially during wet and colder weather. Maline and Elliston said the track began using tilling equipment several weeks ago to dig deeper and mix more of the old into the new, and "that seems to have helped some," said Maline. In the meantime, horsemen are spraying Pam cooking spray and other non-adhesive materials on their horses' hooves to attempt to prevent the balling up, "but that only works to a certain degree," said Maline.

Trainer Buff Bradley, who is on a horsemen's committee that has been meeting with Turfway officials to address the Polytrack issues, said he is satisfied that everything is being done to resolve whatever dissatisfaction horsemen have with the surface.

Bradley, whose entire stable is based at Turfway and who has had two horses break down this winter, said, "The dialogue we have with Turfway is very positive. They are listening very closely."

In September 2005, Turfway became the first North American track to employ a synthetic racing surface. Several tracks have followed suit, and more have made plans for installation. Synthetic surfaces are supposed to be largely impervious to weather conditions, but these recent developments at Turfway suggest that may not necessarily be so, Elliston conceded.

"I've said all along that no track can prevent breakdowns altogether," he said. "I'm still very hopeful and confident that the surface we are using significantly reduces the potential for breakdowns, and we're doing everything humanly possible to see that that's carried out."