Monday, April 21, 2008

Keeneland Bound in '09?

Like many fans the Keeneland meet has me scratching my head more often than not this year. That's good for handicappers who have somehow figured out which horses are going to run well over the surface, I'm not one of them. However, that is not my biggest concern about the surface. My concern is for future racing at Keeneland, the spring meet in particular, when hopes are running high, final conditioning races are being run and last minute decisions have to be made.
Next year if you are an owner/trainer of a considered contender that has ran well on dirt are you going to risk sending your horse to Keeneland? I wouldn't and that is the real rub. Keeneland, along with Saratoga and Del Mar are looked forward to as the penultimate meets of the year. Surely the purses will continue to attract a majority of stables, but what of the best horses? Will it remain as one of the showcase meets? I hope it does but I can also see even more interest than usual slowly being siphoned away toward Arkansas, New York and Illinois. Oaklawn certainly has become one of the most successful routes to the Derby in the last several years.
One could argue that Keeneland's old speed favoring surface also kept some horses pointed to these other venues and that is likely true. However, I think one would be more likely to risk running on that surface than the Polytrack where some apparently superior horses can end up looking like also-rans.
This concern is just one more added to the list of uncertainties about the synthetic surfaces. I am undecided about them myself. I do believe, like many others, that California was a bit too bold in it's decision to coerce its' tracks to switch to synthetics. It seems to work well at Turfway and Hollywood and I will admit to enjoying the last Hollywood meet more than any other last year. At best Del Mar has had mixed success or lack thereof. When handicapping Del Mar it seemed that by taking into account the temperature and cloudiness one could almost pinpoint the race during a card where the track would change from speed favoring to benefiting those coming off the pace. This, too, is a problem. Do we want to have the track be so much of a factor in the races that it is the condition that determines success? Then there's Santa Anita... well enough said.
The arguments will continue for and against the synthetics. The results are probably still too few and too soon to be definitive. Other concerns specifically related to the synthetic tracks have also arisen. These range from concerns about the respiratory systems of both horse and jockey to other types of injuries and soreness in the horses.
One opinion I do agree with is; that if enough research and time went into trying to develop dirt tracks we wouldn't be having these discussions. It seems very likely that a suitably safe dirt surface could be fashioned for every environment. And for those where synthetics do make sense that option still remains. Turfway likely would be such a situation.
As a last thought I also wonder about the effect on breeding. Isn't there a responsibility to the breed itself? Surely horses are not ever going to run free again, at least not in any foreseeable future, but shouldn't we try to improve the breed to be superior on a more natural surface? Or are they just pawns for some reality video game?

A quick note: My inquiries to TVG and HRTV about their cost to be carried by a cable provider or their fee for making their signal available have gone unanswered. I will try again to get an answer from both TVG and HRTV. While living in Kentucky I received TVG with my basic cable. I don't know for sure if that is still that case. I'll make a few calls and find out. Alan from Left at the Gate, , in his April 18 post mentions that Capitol OTB pays $600,000 to have their signal carried by Time Warner Cable. I must admit that is surprising to me.

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