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Synthetic Tracks

Synthetic race tracks are a great source of controversy in the horse racing world. Many people are concerned that they are not as safe for the horses, others worry over the constant maintenance they require. Some gamblers worry that the track itself has as great an impact on a race as switching between dirt and turf. Horses who excel on turf also seem to run faster on the synthetic surfaces which some claim have a consistency closer to turf than dirt. With all of these questions and concerns, why do tracks use synthetic surfaces?

The details on Synthetic Tracks

Synthetic tracks were designed to reduce injuries on the track and lessen the amount of races cancelled due to bad weather. The first synthetic track was not a dirt track. It was a material very similar to astroturf, and was installed in 1966. This artificial turf never caught on. The synthetic dirt tracks, however, are gaining popularity. There are a few different brands, all of which are comprised of different materials.

Track Materials

The top three synthetic track surfaces right now are:

Polytrack- This is by far the most popular of the synthetic tracks. This track is the same texture as dirt, and is made of sand, recycled carpet, recycled spandex, recycled rubber and in cold climates may include a plastic insulation material as well. This track is used in the US, Canada, the UK and a number of tracks in Europe.

Tapeta Footings- This brand is known for refusing to use recycled material, claiming that these materials will break down too quickly. This track is made of sand, fiber, rubber and wax. This track is only installed in the US and in the United Arab Emirates.

Cushion Track- This particular brand is currently undergoing some controversy. Initially installed at Santa Anita Racetrack, the two are currently engaged in a lawsuit regarding the quality of the racing surface. This material is made of sand, silica, elastic fiber, and rubber. Like Polytrack, this mixture is coated with wax. This track is only installed in the US and Australia.

Why these tracks are good or bad for bettors

California passed legislation requiring all thoroughbred racetracks to have synthetic surfaces. These tracks are claimed to be safer for the horses, with less wear and tear on their limbs. These tracks are often safer to run in after weather that would leave a dirt track too muddy or sloppy. This means a racetrack with a synthetic surface will have far fewer races cancelled. While bettors should find this a great benefit, many bettors still dislike wagering on races run on a synthetic surface.

A safer running surface would decrease injuries to the horses and allow them to race more often and increase track speeds. However, not all jockeys approve of the synthetic surfaces and claim that falling onto this surface is like falling onto cement. A jockey who prefers not to race on this surface just might transfer his uncertainty to his horse, which can negatively affect the horse’s running. Horses pick up on their rider’s emotions, and fear would greatly inhibit the horse’s performance.