Financing in place for surface study

A coalition of racetracks and racing organizations have pledged to provide the funding for a Maine-based laboratory that will conduct research into racetrack surfaces and their maintenance, the coalition announced on Friday.

The laboratory will be headed by Dr. Mick Peterson, a professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Maine, and Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, a professor of surgery and the director of the Orthopaedic Research Center at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. Peterson and McIlwraith are both involved in ongoing studies of track surfaces that are being conducted to correlate racing-surface data with injury data.

Peterson, who has developed a biomechanical hoof and uses ground-penetrating radar to measure the consistency of racetrack bases, said on Friday that the laboratory is already conducting research for six racetracks. The money being raised for the laboratory's start-up will go largely toward purchasing equipment to conduct the studies and collect data, Peterson said.

The surface-testing laboratory is the first of its kind in racing, though several racetracks already contract with other laboratories to test soil, grass, and synthetic samples. Once fully operational, the laboratory will conduct tests on surfaces at the request of racetracks, which will be required to pay for the services, Peterson said.

"This is primarily a service for track superintendents," Peterson said. "But we also plan to make all of our results available to the industry. No result is going to be treated as proprietary."

Peterson and other officials involved in ongoing efforts to improve the safety of racetracks have been pushing for the creation of the laboratory in order to develop a database on surface conditions and the factors that influence them. The data is expected to be compared to injury data to determine if any factors correlate to smaller or larger rates of injuries. Almost every racetrack in the U.S. is already participating in a project that is gathering data on injuries.

The groups that have agreed to provide start-up funds for the laboratory are Churchill Downs Inc., the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Charities, the New York Racing Association, the Oak Tree Racing Association, and the Jockey Club. According to Peterson, all five organization have pledged at least $25,000 each for the lab's first year of operation, and "similar amounts" for 2010.

Also, Finger Lakes Racing Association, Keeneland Association, and Turfway Park have agreed to provide "additional financial commitments," according to a release from the groups.