Trainers Eoin Harty and Jack Carava (center) comparing notes.
Clockers' Corner at Santa Anita Racetrack was buzzing this morning with conversations. Leading the list were the results of Saturday's big races, the amount of food consumed on Thanksgiving, and - always a hot topic - the condition of the track surfaces.
It's always devastating to hear of horses breaking down, and this morning's discussions were fueled by several recent injuries. Red Alert, trained by Jack Carava, pulled up with an injury after finishing 4th in Saturday's 3rd race at Hollywood Park. And trainer Mel Stute had to scratch Hurry Up Austin from Saturday's Hollywood Turf Express due to an injury suffered in training at Santa Anita, which will necessitate at least an 8-month rest.
Although there are many factors that can be involved in horse injuries, the focus these days in Southern California is naturally on the performance of the synthetic racetracks. All major California racetracks were required, by a mandate of the California Horse Racing Board in 2007, to install synthetic tracks. To date, statistics do seem to show they are safer for horses and riders; but we are still in the early stages of the learning curve. The type and amount of maintenance needed, in particular, is an ongoing experiment for the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, the Tapeta surface at Golden Gate Fields, and the newest of them all, the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita.
California's synthetic tracks are not the only ones on which horses are getting injured, however. One lively conversation this morning among trainers Bobby Frankel, Bob Baffert, and Mike Machowsky, and retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens concerned two tragic breakdowns at Aqueduct during Saturday's race card. Wanderin Boy, a 7-year-old who has earned over $1.2 million in his career, suffered a fatal injury to his left front leg during the running of the Cigar Mile, and the 2-year-old filly Springside suffered a fracture to her right front pastern after winning the Demoiselle Stakes by 9-1/2 lengths.
During this morning's discussion, Frankel made a quick call to Richard Dutrow on his cell phone, then reported that Dutrow said the track at Aqueduct is great; he loves it. Aqueduct's track, by the way, is old fashioned dirt. It's not hard to find opinions that are polar opposites among trainers at any one track. Here at Santa Anita, Mel Stute hates the synthetics; Richard Mandella loves them. Most trainers are just hoping they turn out to be part of the solution to the age-old problem of horse injuries. At least the racing industry in California is being proactive, and no one can argue that everyone isn't trying to do what they think is best for the safety of our magnificent equines and the people who work with them.