In an effort to provide the safest racing surfaces possible, a number of Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States and Canada are installing synthetic surfaces.
According to one distributor, when compared with traditional dirt racetracks, synthetic surfaces provide a cushioning effect that helps reduce injuries to horses' limbs, more secure footing, reduced kickback, and more uniformity, even in various weather conditions.
Arlington Park is one of the latest racetracks to announce it would install a synthetic surface. In February, park officials said the organic dirt racetrack would be replaced in time for its 2007 race meet, which begins in May.
"With this decision, we expect to improve our quality of racing with more fit, healthier horses and by attracting more trainers with better horses � ," said Roy Arnold, president of Arlington Park, located in the Chicago area.
North American racetracks already using synthetic surfaces, which cost as much as $10 million, include Turfway Park and Keeneland in Kentucky, Woodbine in Canada, and Hollywood Park in California.
All those racetracks use a surface that includes rubbers and fibers mixed with silica sand and coated with wax.
Hollywood Park and a number of other major Thoroughbred racetracks in California were directed by the California Horse Racing Board to install synthetic surfaces by Jan. 1, 2008. The board issued the mandate for synthetic surfaces to decrease racehorse deaths and injuries.
"The injury and fatality rates for the horses are unacceptable for both humanitarian and economic reasons," said Dr. Rick M. Arthur, equine medical director at the CHRB. "The synthetic tracks show great promise in reducing both injuries and fatalities."
In December, Hollywood Park reported that the Cushion Track resulted in "excellent racing and fewer injuries."
Along with safer racing, Dr. Arthur said, other benefits of the synthetic surfaces are reduced maintenance costs and less water usage. Considering all these advantages, he said, most major Thoroughbred racetracks will probably eventually install synthetic surfaces.