Safety of Keeneland track tested in wake of breakdowns

Keeneland removed its Polytrack surface in May of last year. The surface was shown to have a race-related fatality rate below the overall average for all tracks that supplied data.
Keeneland removed its Polytrack surface in May of last year. The surface was shown to have a race-related fatality rate below the overall average for all tracks that supplied data. Herald-Leader

In response to questions and concerns that have arisen after three horses suffered fatal breakdowns over the Keeneland main track since the start of the Fall Meet, Dr. Mick Peterson, University of Maine professor and executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, was at the track this weekend, working with officials to review testing and daily measuring procedures to ensure the safety of the dirt track.

According to a news release from Keeneland on Monday, the review found that the dirt surface met all of the pre-meet test criteria and all maintenance had been performed in accordance with protocols developed for the track.

The findings were similar to those reported in Dr. Peterson's Composition and Performance Testing review, conducted just before the start of the Fall Meet.

Dr. Peterson performs a review of Keeneland's dirt and turf surfaces before every race meet. In addition to the pre-meet testing, daily measurements are taken on both racing surfaces every race day by Keeneland officials, and electronic records are maintained and reviewed by Dr. Peterson.

"Keeneland, along with a small group of industry leaders, has made a commitment to advancing knowledge and providing the most consistent surfaces in the industry," Peterson said in the release. "By participating in the maintenance tracking system to measure and monitor the surface performance, Keeneland both defines the state of the art and is helping to advance our understanding of racing surfaces. When questions arise these records allow us to review all of the maintenance and operating conditions as well as the daily surface inspections, that help to ensure that the most consistent possible surface is provided. Because the racing surface is a critical safety system, all of the maintenance must be performed in accordance with best practices in the industry."

Concerns about the surface peaked after multiple Grade I winner and leading Breeders' Cup Sprint candidate Rock Fall suffered fatal fractures in both his front legs after a workout over the track this past Saturday.

Rock Fall became the fourth horse overall and third on the main track to suffer a fatal injury during racing or training hours this Keeneland Fall Meet. Multiple graded stakes winner Skyring was euthanized after being pulled up with a fracture in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile on Oct. 3. Earlier on that same card, stakes winner Shore Runner fatally broke down in the stretch of the Grade III Woodford Stakes on the main track. The next morning, stakes winner Tacticus was euthanized after suffering a fatal leg fracture while training over the main track.

Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said "these equine injuries are complicated, multi-factorial events and added that "the Commission conducts a mortality review for every exercise-related fatality. Information is currently being acquired and compiled for these case reviews."

Keeneland's 11⁄16-mile main track was converted from synthetic Polytrack to a dirt surface during the summer of 2014, and racing first was held over the new track during the 2014 Fall Meet.

"The safety of our horses and riders is priority No. 1, and we remain confident in the performance of our racetrack," Keeneland Vice President of Racing Rogers Beasley said.

Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason also stood behind the track's safety efforts, saying, "We have the best people in the industry on our track crew. ...

"The status quo is unacceptable to Keeneland when it comes to safety and other issues critically important to the future of our industry. We want everything we do here to be shared with the industry in an effort to benefit racing as a whole."