Survey on US racecourse safety gives rough ride to dirt diehards

The Americans have opened up a contentious new front in a civil war with critical international ramifications. For those conservatives who cannot come to terms with the revolution in racing surfaces there must now explain a survey that appears to demonstrate a massive improvement in attrition rates on the new, synthetic tracks.

Quite apart from the moral imperatives of welfare, this bitter debate will also govern Europe's prospects of building on its unprecedented success at the last two Breeders' Cup, the first ever staged on a synthetic track.

The study was conducted by Equibase on behalf of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and embraced 444,848 starts by North American racehorses in 2009. Statistics on dirt races yielded a toll of 0.39 per cent starters failing to complete the final race of their careers, compared with just 0.19 per cent on synthetic surfaces – even safer, on the face of it, than turf with 0.26 per cent.

Predictably, there has already been an aggressive reaction to the findings from some horsemen, who protest that statistics can distort a multitude of latent trends. Another survey, published almost simultaneously from a smaller sample, had found no "statistically significant difference" in fatal breakdowns on different surfaces. It did imply a worse attrition rate on dirt, but its compilers suggested that they require much more data before drawing any secure conclusions. Even so, the onus would seem increasingly upon those who cannot be reconciled to artificial surfaces to demonstrate that they are not relegating welfare issues beneath their own vested, commercial interests.

Their responsibilities to equine safety make even turf management hard work for men like Andrew Cooper, the clerk of the course at Sandown. He was watering the track yesterday in the hope of providing conditions "on the fast side of good" for the Coral Eclipse Stakes on Saturday.

Henrietta Knight yesterday announced the recruitment of a stable jockey for the first time since the retirement of Jim Culloty, who rode Best Mate for her, in 2005. Hadden Frost, who crowned his emergence as a promising conditional by winning a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival on Buena Vista, will leave David Pipe in September. "Hadden impressed us when he rode a couple for us last season, and he's a talented young jockey," Knight said.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Ting Ting (2.0 Haydock) Has a top-class American pedigree and looks worth following now that she has found her feet, still rated only 60 after winning her first handicap at Redcar.

Next best

Sarasota Sunshine (8.10 Newbury) Flourished for Nick Littmoden last season and resumed her progress when reappearing for a new stable.

One to watch

Deauville Flyer (T D Easterby) Could manage only fifth when well backed for the Northumberland Plate, but hinted at further progress, never able to get into top gear after meeting traffic.

Where the money's going

Coral laid Starspangledbanner to 9-4 favourite from 5-2 for the Darley July Cup at Newmarket tomorrow week, and Marchand D'or from 25-1 to 20-1.

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