Keeneland Moves to Dirt, More Deaths to Follow

To anyone paying attention, horseracing is and always has been about human self-interest. The racehorses, no matter what the horse people say, are but means to an end, expendable assets. On Wednesday, no less than Keeneland further confirmed this truth when it announced that this summer it is converting from a synthetic track to “a state-of-the-art dirt surface.” Joe Drape (The New York Times, 4/3/14): “There is nothing state of the art about dirt. When it rains, it gets muddy. When it is cold, it can get frozen and hard.” Yes, dirt, the most dangerous surface in racing:

According to the Jockey Club, since 2009, dirt tracks recorded 2.08 fatal breakdowns per 1,000 starts; synthetic tracks, 1.22.

In 2009, Santa Anita’s synthetic track had a .90 breakdown rate. On dirt, the rates have been 3.45 in 2010, 2.94 in 2011, 2.89 in 2012, and 2.11 in 2013.

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By its own admission, Keeneland’s Polytrack surface “has set the standard for safety in the industry.” (Its .33 breakdown rate is one of the nation’s lowest.) So why the change? “Owners and trainers, especially those who compete at the highest levels of the sport, overwhelmingly prefer dirt tracks.” Translation: To get the Breeders’ Cup, we have to give them dirt. Minimizing deaths on the playing field? Irrelevant.

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