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A horse trains on the Polytrack racing surface at Keeneland Race Track, Lexington, KY.

Synthetic Dirt Muddies Kentucky Derby Handicapping

May 02, 2008 08:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
This year's entrants have run many more races over synthetic surfaces than past fields. Fans wonder how these horses will adjust to Churchill Downs’ dirt track.

30-Second Summary

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Handicapping the Kentucky Derby, with its large fields of inexperienced horses, has always been difficult, but the rise of synthetic dirt tracks in the past few years turns it into even more of a guessing game.

Synthetic dirt is designed to reduce horse injuries. Turfway Park installed it in 2005 and had a drastic reduction in catastrophic injuries, down to three from 24 in the previous year.

Barbaro’s fatal injury in the 2006 Preakness Stakes brought national attention to the issue of horse safety and encouraged the switch to synthetic dirt. In 2006, Keeneland became the highest-profile track to make the switch, and the State of California mandated that all tracks do the same.

But there are many in the horse racing community who reject the use of synthetic dirt, arguing that it produces less exciting races and a rise in minor injuries.

Handicappers have also found it difficult to translate results on synthetic tracks to traditional dirt tracks. “Judging how horses will make the transition from Poly to dirt is guesswork, not handicapping,” writes Andrew Beyer.

As a result, this year’s race is less predictable than it ever has been and may result in long-odds horses finishing in the money.

Headline Link: A new era for handicapping

Background: The rise of synthetic dirt tracks

Opinion & Analysis: Criticisms of synthetic dirt

Reference: Synthetic dirt manufacturers

Related Topics: Kentucky Derby Information and Analysis

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