Turfway responds to concern about fatal breakdowns

Turfway Park is investigating the string of eight fatal breakdowns but so far has seen no sign that the track's artificial surface is to blame, said track president Robert N. Elliston.

"At this time, based on information we have received directly and through examinations of the racing surface, we cannot make a determination that the condition of the track is contributing to the unfortunate breakdowns that have occurred," Elliston said in a statement released late Tuesday. "We will continue to employ every method available to us in investigating these injuries."

The fatal injuries occurred in 21 days of racing at Turfway's Holiday meet, which began Nov. 30. State racing officials, informed of the breakdowns on Tuesday, questioned whether there has been any change in the track's synthetic surface, called Polytrack. Synthetic surfaces generally have been seen as a safer alternative to dirt tracks, particularly in winter.

The artificial racing surface at Santa Anita in California also has come under scrutiny after five breakdowns, including three fatalities, within five days of racing in December. Santa Anita's synthetic track is Pro-Ride, a different brand than Turfway's. Officials in California are considering whether changes in temperature and rain may have been factors.

David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, agreed Wednesday that it is too soon to start pointing fingers at Turfway's track surface.

"This is an anomaly," Switzer said. "There never has been a lot of injuries (on Turfway's Polytrack surface.)"

Switzer said so far horsemen have not expressed reluctance to race or train there, and he does not know of any drop-off in entries.

"If there is something we can pinpoint, we'll try to find that," Switzer said. He said health of the horses may be a factor. "When you're dealing with the level of horses you have at Turfway at this time of year — claiming horses — it's an issue."

Elliston said that the track has met with vets, jockeys, and horsemen to seek input. Turfway also has brought in experts to test the surface.

He said the only specific recommendation so far came from a group of attending veterinarians at a meeting on Dec. 22. The vets suggested again letting trainers use quarter-inch "toe grabs" on back horse shoes, which Turfway began allowing again on Jan. 1. Racing resumed at Turfway on Wednesday afternoon after the weekend.

"Otherwise we have not heard any specific negative feedback regarding the safety of the racing surface," Elliston said. "We check daily with the riders in our jockey colony and seek input from trainers every morning during training."

Racing commission vets also are monitoring racing closely and at least through January will be tracking the shoes that each runner wears.