Fibersand explained

The difference between the synthetic track in Deauville and Maisons-Laffitte has been explained by my friends at Jour de Galop, a daily Internet newsletter that is the only journalism worth reading on the French racing scene. The track in Deauville was made by a company called Viscoride and installed in 2002. It is supposed to be usable down to minus 7 degrees Celcius, but that has turned out not to be the case. It is mostly sand, blended with fiberglass fibers and a wax glue. In Maisons-Laffitte, we have an old version of Polytrack, composed of sand, fiberglass and chopped up rubber from electrical cabling all bound together with a wax sealant. The Polytrack sand is whiter and flufflier than the heavy yellow stuff in Deauville. It is supposed to be usable down to minus 10 Celcius, and that seems to be true, because we’re still using it and Deauville had to close up shop.

Deauville has been harrowing in a salt mixture for three days, and they now say the track is fine and there will be racing today. I will be watching with interest, because I still have two entries for Saturday. Unfortunately, my horses have been stuck in their boxes for the past two days, so if there is racing, I’m not sure we can run. We are going to try to get the two horses with entries out today, to do what and how I’m not sure.

Somebody responding to a post on the Paulick Report sneared at Polytrack, saying it actually stunk; this person was clearly pissed off that his precious dirt track was churned up for something safer for the horses. Can’t have that – it interferes with “speed ratings,”  timed workouts and all the other numbers that American punters hold dear. Well, as a trainer, I can tell you that I’m a fan of Polytrack, and I hope that when Deauville has to install a new surface (which is inevitable, since they’ve added salt to the track they have), they go with Polytrack. It’s been riding great in Maisons-Laffitte. (Now if only I can find a way to get my horses over to it….)

10 Replies to “Fibersand explained”

  1. Several anecdotal stories surface, regarding the soft tissue effects of synthetic tracks.

    Is this a red herring and an excuse for a lack of proper acclimatization to the new surface or have you found any similar problems? Perhaps the similarity between synth and turf mitigates those issues.

    If dirt tracks had a sufficient cushion and were not plowed into concrete highways, would they still be such a detriment to the horse. I guess I am asking if dirt is inherently dangerous to racing or is it more a function of the condition of the track itself?

  2. The problem is that, for the moment, all there is is anecdotal evidence. My feeling is that in the United States, medication is the root of most breakdowns. I believe a synthetic surface is more forgiving, based on my own personal experience; we train on sand and dirt tracks here, yet we race on turf and now, occasionally, on synthetics. I have found, again, just personally, that there is an occasional horse that can’t get a “hold” on a synthetic surface, and my sense is that the horse has trouble pushing behind. But usually that sort of horse has other issues that need to be addressed no matter what surface he runs on.

    I think a well-maintained, well-designed dirt track might be just as safe as a synthetic surface, but by well-designed, I mean with wide turns and long straights, in the style of European turf tracks, rather than the dog tracks most U.S. racing is done on. We joke that Churchill Downs has tighter turns than the tiniest country track over here.

  3. Earlier today I saw a BloodHorse story online to the effect that authorities are investigating 8 catastrophic injuries on the Polytrack at Turfway during the recent 21 day race meeting there. 8 horses dead in 21 days.

    Are you really so certain that Polytrack is safer for the horses? Or is it possible that you’ve just happened to have a good experience with it so far?

    I also tend to believe that drugs are at the root of most American breakdowns. I think some authorities here have rushed to embrace synthetics in the hope they can solve their injuries problems (and stop the bad press) without getting rid of the drugs.

    There were no breakdowns at all at Saratoga this year.

  4. Noelle- I think there were a few breakdowns at Saratoga, just not on the main track, which is probably what you meant anyway. Del Mar had a bad stretch there with 8 I think.

    Thanks Gina

  5. Noelle – I think synthetic surfaces are probably safer, but really only a small part of the equation. The U.S. media and racing authorities have been doing just as you said – hoping this one thing can solve all their problems (just like they pitched the steroid ban as racing medication free – I can’t believe my former fellow journalists bought that line). I think the small scale of most U.S. tracks also contributes to the injuries. If you designed a dirt track on the scale of, say, Longchamp, with wide, sweeping turns and a long, long home stretch, I’ll bet it would ride pretty safely. Also, the U.S. tendancy to run sprints with a turn is deadly. So many races over there are so short that horses have to just gun like hell for the turn, then have no room to finish. Too fast on turns is deadly (and running all races in the same direction is no good, either – especially with those kinds of turns).

    Sorry it’s long….

  6. There’s a link on the Paulick Report today to an article entitled:”SANTA ANITA TRAINER: HORSES ARE ‘GUINEA PIGS'” about 5 breakdowns in 5 days (3 fatal) on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface there.

  7. Yes, I saw that article. I haven’t personally seen Santa Anita since they changed surfaces, so I can’t comment on the breakdowns. But I stick with what I said before: the surface won’t matter as long as you don’t change the medication laws (as in, eliminate it) and redesign the turns.

  8. Maybe you won’t see this since it’s several days later now, but Indyanne just became the 4th fatality from that 5-breakdowns-in-5-days stretch at Santa Anita.

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