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Injury risk associated with surface type & going
Racing and training surfaces have long been associated with the risk of racehorse injury and fatality.
A plethora of research now documents a strong association between surface and musculoskeletal injury, particularly fractures. In addition to the welfare implications for the horse, catastrophic injuries have economic consequences for owners and wider ramifications for the racing industry as a whole, due to the emotional impact on spectators and the general public.
In work from GB published in 2004, the risk of fatal lower limb fractures in UK thoroughbred racehorses has shown considerable variation between the different types of racing. Flat turf racing was associated with the lowest risk (0.4 per 1000 starts) whereas the risk in hurdle and steeplechase racing was 0.9 and 1.4, respectively (53).
Race-day ‘going’ is a priority consideration for trainers and owners in terms of racing performance, and this also contributes to the risk of race day injury (93) (8) (78). But research has now identified that many catastrophic fractures are progressive, indicating that training surfaces are also likely to be important, in terms of the risk of catastrophic injury during racing.
The growth of the artificial surface
In the UK there is a growing variety of surfaces used during training, including grass (turf), woodchip, sand and synthetic ‘all-weather’ surfaces which are commonly based on a mixture of sand, rubber, elasticated fibres, plastic and/or wax (72).
Since the UK’s first race on an artificial surface at Lingfield in 1989, ‘all-weather’ racing has expanded offering a year-round racing calendar and of the UK’s 59 racecourses, 5 (soon to be 6) are artificial. However, there are many different varieties of artificial surface and therefore, research is ongoing globally to understand the effects of hoof-surface interaction and identify the optimum maintenance regimens for these surfaces in different climatic conditions.
Confirmed risks of firm surface/ fast ground on Turf
One clear finding of all research to date is:-
the risk of musculoskeletal injury on turf increases as surface firmness increases.
In the UK this is the primary reason that racecourses invest so much time and effort watering their tracks.
Research specifically indicates that greater efforts to reduce the number of races run on ‘going’ that is firmer than good would significantly reduce the number of fatal lower limb fractures in the UK (93).
Of course this intervention has to be balanced with the need of the track not to become waterlogged or poached, should watering also be accompanied by unexpected rainfall.