Horse racing again considers synthetic surfaces to stem safety concerns

POSTED ON  |  29-11-2019

Synthetic race track
DEL MAR —  On the eve of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s 2019 summer race meet in mid-July, trainer Peter Miller walked the backstretch with the hang-dog look shared by many of his fellow horsemen. Seemingly everyone in the sport was feeling shell-shocked on the heels of a Santa Anita winter/spring meet that stoked a firestorm of concern and controversy because of 30 horse deaths.

There was one primary question being asked of the reeling industry: How will you make racing safer? Miller, an Encinitas resident who doesn’t shy from speaking his mind, said, “I can fix this problem in 10 seconds. “Less racing. There’s too much racing. Cut the race dates and put in synthetic race tracks. “It’s easy to blame the trainers and vets and medication, and it’s just really a distraction from the real issues. The real issues are too much racing and unsafe surfaces. The problem is that that costs money.”

Four months later, Miller’s assertions are more relevant than ever. Del Mar had an extraordinarily safe summer meet with no deaths in racing and four in training. But in Santa Anita’s six-week fall meet, seven horses died in training and racing, and the season ended tragically with the nationally televised breakdown of Mongolian Groom in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Racing remains staggered and on its heels, but more change is coming. Miller’s fewer racing dates idea has come to fruition, with the California Horse Racing Board approving a plan this week for Santa Anita to take a mandatory 12 days off for weather or other issues in its 102-card winter/spring meet.

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