News Releases

Friday, April 17, 2009Contact: Dr. Mick Peterson (207) 409-6872
Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory Being Launched with Broad Industry Support

A Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory designed to enhance surface safety for horses and riders is being launched with the financial support of a broad industry coalition, it was announced today by the laboratory’s coordinators Dr. Mick Peterson and Dr. Wayne McIlwraith.

The laboratory will provide science-based testing focused on the unique demands of horse racing. Such testing has long been sought after by track superintendents and will be provided for dirt and synthetic racetrack surfaces in collaboration with industry stakeholders.

The Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory will be constituted as a 501(c)(3) organization. The laboratory traces its roots to recommendations made at the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summits, which were organized and underwritten by The Jockey Club and Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation in October 2006 and March 2008.

Peterson, a professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, and McIlwraith, a professor of surgery and the director of the Orthopaedic Research Center within the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University, are both members of the summit’s Racing Surfaces Committee.

Start-up funding in 2009 and 2010 is being provided by Churchill Downs Incorporated, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Charities, the New York Racing Association, the Oak Tree Racing Association and The Jockey Club. Each of those organizations will have one representative on the laboratory’s board of directors, which met in an organizational meeting on April 13. Additional financial commitments have been received from Finger Lakes Racing Association, Keeneland Association and Turfway Park. The laboratory is encouraging other industry organizations to participate in the funding of the laboratory and track surface testing equipment.

“The development of this laboratory will provide a location where reliable tests of surfaces can be obtained and new tests that better represent the needs of the industry can be developed,” said Peterson. “This initiative will also provide a unique tool for studying the performance of new and existing surfaces in a controlled environment.

“It is exciting to see the willingness of the industry to approach these challenges in a systematic fashion,” added Peterson.

The Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, which will be based in Orono, Maine, will focus on composition analysis and performance testing of dirt and synthetic surfaces materials. These measurements will help to increase consistency and reduce the possibility of injury to horses and riders. Personnel from the lab will also:

  • Collaborate with racetracks to develop processes to ensure consistent track maintenance
  • Perform racetrack testing that enables tracks to monitor changes in track materials and received materials to ensure consistency of the track surface
  • Conduct benchmark studies of alternative track surface materials to help track manufacturers and materials suppliers develop safer racing surfaces
  • Develop standards for track surfaces and subsequently promote those standards to regulatory bodies
  • Develop collaborative relationships that increase the likelihood of adoption by racetracks of best practices for track management

On-site performance testing of racing surfaces will be conducted in collaboration with horsemen, racetracks and regulatory agencies.

According to NTRA President Alex Waldrop, “Members of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance that participate in the laboratory’s racing surface testing will satisfy their track’s requirement to fund and/or participate in independent research to promote a safer racing environment as part of the alliance racetrack accreditation process that is currently underway.”

Testing methods stem from a research project being conducted by Peterson and McIlwraith and funded in part through the ElastikonTM Equine Research Award from Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. Ground-penetrating radar and a biomechanical hoof tester developed by Peterson, which simulates a hoof’s interaction with a track’s surface, are used to establish baseline data about the surface. The baseline data is then supplemented with regular measurement of track surface materials, continuous monitoring of weather conditions and documentation of all maintenance performed on the surface.

“All of this data then becomes the basis for maintaining a consistent and safe surface, ensuring that we understand what type of maintenance protocols are most effective, and maintaining continuity should track personnel changes occur,” said Peterson.

“This is the culmination of an eight-year program that Mick and I have been working on to try and achieve racetrack consistency and provide objective parameters for optimal safety,” said McIlwraith. “The testing lab will be working along with the biomechanical hoof tester and ground-penetrating radar data to validate a racetrack as best as we can. As an equine surgeon and orthopedic researcher I am excited with this initiative as it is a critical part of racehorse welfare.”

The Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory is expected to begin operation within the next 30 days pending the filing of all incorporation documents. Additional information about the laboratory and racing surface testing is available by contacting Jamie Haydon, The Jockey Club's manager of industry initiatives, at (859) 224-2750.