The University of Kentucky and Racing Surfaces
Dr. Nancy Cox
Dr. Nancy Cox, Dean, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, University of Kentucky

Stuart S. Janney III: The University of Kentucky has been a good friend of the Thoroughbred industry for years. It's the home to the Racing Surfaces and Testing Lab. That's a very important entity in today's world and it falls under the aegis of Nancy Cox. And she's here today to tell us a little bit about how that works.

Before she begins, I would like to publicly commend her and the university for a recently announced partnership with Stonestreet and UK's Gluck Equine Research Center. In response to reports of off-label bisphosphonate use in growing horses, they have developed an innovative blood sampling testing and storage protocol that will enable buyers of Stonestreet-bred and raised yearlings to review a blood health window of at least six months prior to the purchase.

Welcome to the Round Table, Nancy. Thanks for coming.

Dr. Nancy Cox:

Thank you, Chairman Janney and members of The Jockey Club and guests. I'm honored to be here to talk about University of Kentucky's commitment to elevating the profile of track safety monitoring with some best-in-class programs to serve this industry.

As we all know, the track surface is an ubiquitous part of racing, impacting horses every day. And I'll be talking today about, really, two things: One of what we see as an immediate need, which is to scale up the current track safety protocols for real-time racing this country, as well as a longer-term program to sustain the future of research and innovation in track safety. The key to our programs at the University of Kentucky is Dr. Mick Peterson, who is here. Mick, would you raise your hand? And many of you know him. We recruited Dr. Peterson to the University of Kentucky in 2017. And he is a leading racing surfaces expert in the world and has decades of research and dedication to this industry.

So we're facing an immediate need to expand the surface model that he has created. And just to review some of the things that we look at, Dr. Peterson's work has shown that maintenance varies significantly among tracks. Obviously every square inch that a hoof touches is important. For both dirt and turf tracks critical priority is to maintain moisture. And as we all know, everything is changed by weather. We also know that for both kinds of tracks different traditions and management practices occur in different tracks.

So the current surface testing and research protocols that we are aiming to ramp up is to improve track surface consistency and reduce the risk of injury. And the current process by the RSTL is to validate the design of a track pre-race, perform complete daily seasonal assessments, and document and store in a relational database, which means having the information at your fingertips to make decisions in the best way possible.

We know that the current system is not enough. There are limitations in knowledge, despite our best efforts, as well as logistical challenges. Currently, there is only one complete set of equipment to serve all the tracks in this country. And I think everybody would agree we need to ramp that up. We need to better support this geographically-dispersed industry.

And our proposal is to propose four different sets of equipment to be employed and deployed regionally. Florida-Louisiana, Maryland-New York region, Kentucky-Illinois region, and California. So each of four systems would now be fully equipped and would serve the industry much more efficiently. Each system would allow a more efficient technical sign-off on a track being ready for race meet. And we would have better monitoring tools for all people involved in track management to use.

And this is kind of like the model of the U.S. Golf Association. The USGA has funded research and has provided technical services to the nation's golf courses for over 100 years. And they have also spawned a lot of research and development and technology development associated with that. And certainly our surfaces are more dangerous than golfing surfaces on most golfing days. So we do like the model of thinking about that kind of implementation of services.

Another reflection why we can and must improve in our long-term research, if you think about the tens of millions of dollars that were spent on implementing synthetic surfaces, there's not been a lot of surface research commensurate to that investment. And that's one of the things we feel we can add value to, at the University of Kentucky.

We feel like we need more research and sustainable research to have a long-term impact. And the racing surface is certainly only one factor, but we believe we can go a long ways toward eliminating that as a serious factor. And we also believe we need to challenge the way we make decisions and think more broadly and with more innovation and maybe not do things all the same way we have always been doing them.

And that's kind of what the land-grant university tries to do.

So why the University of Kentucky? Certainly, as a land-grant university we have a culture of industry-inspired science, which is another way of saying we're constantly creating research ideas and testing them with our partners that we serve.

We're also a horse and rider safety knowledge center. One of our pillars of excellence is safety. And as Chairman Janney remarked, that is evidenced by our recruiting of Dr. Scott Stanley and that wonderful partnership with Stonestreet Farm that was revealed at this race meet, for bisphosphonate research.

We're also very grateful to have recently announced a partnership with NTRA to create a laboratory for surface testing on UK's campus under the direction of Dr. Peterson. An immediate research focus and an immediate need is improved racing surfaces. You can see the laboratory itself. It's big and it's got high ceilings and it's got a lot of track surface in it right now. And we are so proud to have this start on this laboratory.

So some of the other ideas for our research focus would be always better real-time information, aiming to make dirt as safe as synthetic with respect to catastrophic industries. We need to be able to do research on creating a surface with a consistency of synthetic, but performance of dirt. We also aim for advances in turf management with new combinations of grasses. And we're already collaborating with turf scientists to this end.

We also need to work, and we are working, with the necropsy program at UK and other universities and in conjunction with clinical researchers on biomechanics and musculoskeletal properties of the horse.

So where do we go from here? Again, the immediate need, enhance the testing process in real time for these tracks represented here and elsewhere. The longer term necessity, always the research program. But the immediate process for the ramping up and scaling up track safety testing will be to restructure the current nonprofit laboratory, the RSTL. And the new non-profit entity will combine industry resources and it will be affiliated with UK and it will kind of feed into the research program and back and forth and identifying researchable topics.

Dr. Peterson's focus and energy will still remain with the testing services as an advisor, but he will also expand to create a research program at UK to do what land-grant universities do, which is to train future workers, future scientists, to give training to the workforce that exists already at racetracks, and to create students that understand and appreciate this industry, like those in this room.

And so we're trying to do that immediately. As I've said earlier, provide expanded support for tracks. Some of the equipment is listed, greater technical support, greater equipment, always innovating on our equipment.

And then the maintenance quality database, the maintenance quality system, to be transferred to an IT platform that gives it the greatest usefulness with the best services possible.

And the other piece, the longer-term piece, the sustainable piece for the future, is the surface improvement through the research program. And we are proposing an endowed professorship in racing safety. We believe that to be the only one of its kind anywhere. And through that program we expect to create an activity center for a lot of different minds and students and folks to be served with the latest technologies.

We'll do graduate research, we'll work more on turf surfaces, we'll do those sensing research pieces. We hope to have sensors that can sense the moisture of a track and send it to a database somewhere without having to go through a human to transcribe that or enter it.

So those are some big goals, but we believe they're achievable. And we're very excited to be before you today to talk about these ideas. And we hope you agree that the university's goal was conveyed, which is to create a system of continuous improvement for the long-term health and viability of this industry. Thank you for your attention.

Stuart S. Janney III: Nancy, we're indebted to the university, and we thank you for your interest, your concern and passion.

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