SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, February 13, 2010--Looking forward to today’s rescheduled Robert B. Lewis Memorial for Derby colts at Santa Anita, the same Lewis Memorial that was rained out last Saturday, along with the Las Virgenes and Strub Stakes.

From backstretch to betting window, you could wager that racetrackers are awaiting the end of the Pro Ride era in Arcadia--the end of synthetic-track sport at the Great Race Place which was foisted upon all California tracks under the guise of safety.

As all know, the jury remains out on the safety issue, although there’s been some empirical evidence to show that it slows the rate of traditional problems, but also has created different physical issues with which horsemen must deal.

Eventually, the Pro Ride surface will be replaced by God’s dirt--hopefully with a few technological enhancements in the interests of equine safety, but obviously a dirt track not as hard as the old Santa Anita dirt surface that often was speed biased as well.

And you can write it down; the new surface at Santa Anita WILL by a dirt track.

Part of the selling of synthetics, wittingly or not, was done by Dr. Rick Arthur, a proponent who wields much influence as Equine Medical Director for the California Horse Racing Board. Arthur conducted studies he says indicates that all-weather surfaces are safer.

On the issue of synthetic tracks, horseplayer and activist Andy Asaro has been on the case of anyone and everyone in California who has the least bit authority, hoping to rectify what he has called racing’s greatest hoax; the selling of synthetics in the name of safety.


Recently, data has started to accumulate indicating that Asaro’s suspicions might be more than simply the paranoid ramblings of some disgruntled horseplayer.

Asaro sent two requests to the CHRB asking whether they had knowledge that Dr. Arthur had any financial relationship with the Keeneland/Polytrack/Martin Collins International consortium. He never received a reply.

Like any racing board, the CHRB has a fiduciary responsibility to protect the public and disseminate accurate information concerning the well being of the industry. Asaro’s contention is that the statistics compiled by Arthur were both misleading and reckless.

Asaro’s argument was that comparing the last three years of a dirt surface with a 10-year-old base to a surface made of new synthetic materials and a new base was deceptive, yet Dr. Arthur continued to do so and the CHRB endorsed the findings without additional study.

In his request to the board, Asaro also asserted that since the middle of 2008, the beginning of the run-up to Breeders' Cup, morning and afternoon veterinary inspections have been stepped up dramatically. He points to the fact that there have been many more program and gate scratches during this period. He challenged the CHRB to disprove his assertions.

The following is a response Asaro that received last weekend--not from the CHRB but rather from veteran trainer Darell Vienna, also a member of the California Bar. Vienna developed 1992 juvenile champion Gilded Time and currently serves as vice-president of the SoCal chapter of the California Thoroughbred Trainers group. It reads:

“Andy:

“Thanks for your comments. Horsemen have been unable to reconcile their experiences on the synthetic surfaces with Dr. Arthur's conclusions. As you know Dr. Arthur has refused to provide the raw data underlying his conclusionary reports. As evidence of Dr. Arthur's incompetence or misfeasance, I direct your attention to his summary found on page 36 of the CHRB Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2007-2008 (http://chrb.ca.gov/annual_reports/2008_annual_reports.pdf).

In Table I, Fatalities by Track & Surface, Dr. Arthur adds fatality figures from Los Alamitos (including Quarter Horse Racing) to establish his conclusion that synthetics are safer than dirt. Please note that 50 of the 77 fatalities reported on dirt are from Los Alamitos. Absent the inclusion of the Los Alamitos fatalities, the report would show 27 fatalities on dirt vs. 43 fatalities on synthetics.

“Without the Los Alamitos fatalities, Dr. Arthur's conclusion regarding the fatality rate per 1,000 starts would be reversed and rightfully show that synthetic surfaces are significantly more harmful than dirt surfaces. He has promulgated more recent studies which continue to fly in the face of the experience of most California Horsemen.

“Quite simply, Dr. Arthur must submit his data for peer review and validation before it can be accepted. His continual refusal to allow interested parties access to the underlying data (redacted with regard to names of horses, trainers, etc.) is indefensible.

“Best wishes,

Darrell Vienna”

Even after the Santa Anita track eventually is resurfaced, the fallout from the mandated installation of synthetic tracks doesn’t figure to go away anytime soon and what happens thereafter could extend well beyond the borders of the Golden State. Stay tuned.