The hidden hero, and often villain, of many sports is the turf that is being played on. When the majority of people watch sport the ground surface is forgotten unless it plays a negative effect on the game or competition. Maintaining the condition of the turf or track is vital to ensure a fair and safe competition. The racetrack in horse racing is hugely important as a slight change to firmness can significantly change a race. Many tracks now use synthetic surfaces to maintain more control.
So in this article we are going to compare synthetic surfaces to the traditional grass and dirt surfaces in horse racing.
Synthetic surfaces such as Polytrack have become very popular across the world. Horse Hints states that Polytrack “is a mixture of sand, synthetic fibers, and recycled rubber, coated with a microcrystalline wax and mixed on site.” The mix makes up six inches of the track surface and can only be applied on a drained surface. Polytrack became popular with jockeys, trainers, and racecourse owners because it is an all weather surface. Horse racing punters who use track surfaces to influence their bets were not happy, as the track has reduced one of the major conditions of determining a horse’s advantage.
The argument of which track is better has raged on particularly around horse safety. The European Synthetic Turf Organization revealed that studies have shown that synthetic surfaces are less likely to break down than horses racing on dirt making the track a lot more consistent and safer. However the site also noted that a synthetic track needs more maintenance than dirt and jockeys have compared falling on it to falling on cement. This can affect a horse’s performance as they can sense the rider’s dislike of the track.
Many most prestigious racetracks in the UK still maintain the traditional grass tracks. Once such track is the Cheltenham Festival course which is considered one the racing highlights of the British calendar, according to Betfair who also cover major UK racing events such as the Grand National. The upkeep of grass tracks is a yearly occupation that is often at the mercy of the weather. In 2015 The Guardian reported that the track had been a concern due to the lack of rain. However due to careful care by the groundsmen the track was in great condition for the races. Many racetracks have adopted synthetic surfaces to eliminate the uncontrollable problems that natural racetracks can suffer. Big events like the Cheltenham Festival can afford to employ the staff to keep the track in fine form no matter what the weather conditions, while smaller courses find synthetic surfaces more economically viable.
Like many sports, the argument between artificial or synthetic surfaces against natural surfaces is down to personal preference. Synthetic surfaces can be used in nearly all weather conditions and the surface can be controlled more readily. Yet the issue of safety and maintaining the quality of the track, along with tradition mean that dirt and grass surfaces will never vanish.
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