Racing Surfaces White Paper

The Racing Surfaces Committee that was formed at the inaugural Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in 2006 has published a 34-page “Racing Surfaces White Paper” that details the current state of knowledge pertaining to training and racing surfaces.

The document, drafted as a collection of published scientific papers and data, was co-authored by Dr. Mick Peterson (University of Maine), Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith (Colorado State University), Dr. Lars Roepstorff (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Dr. Jeffrey J. Thomason (University of Guelph) and Christie Mahaffey (University of Maine).

It was distributed Wednesday to participants at the 10th Annual Track Superintendents’ Field Day Conference (June 14-16), hosted by Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. The document is also available at

“The fundamental issue behind doing this white paper was the fact that there has been limited academic study of racetracks,” Peterson said. “Veterinarians, engineers and soil scientists have all studied racing surfaces but it has been a modest body of study. This paper will tell researchers and scientists what we don’t know and confirm once again that actions taken to improve safety should be based on sound science and published research.”

The white paper, according to Peterson, emphasizes that a number of factors affect the performance of a racing or training surface.

“Climate and maintenance are two examples,” he said. “No one can control the weather but the safety and performance of surfaces are highly dependent on the judgment and skill of those who have day-to-day responsibility for surface maintenance. Our goal is to provide the best possible information to the superintendents so they can make decisions based on sound test results.”

Butch Lehr, track superintendent at Churchill Downs, encourages other track supers to take advantage of the summit committee and the information provided.

“Personally,” he said, “the scientific data we have received by working with Mick and the committee has been extremely helpful with our knowledge and practices on the track.”

Peterson and McIlwraith are the coordinators of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, which was formed in the spring of 2009 with financial support from a broad industry coalition to enhance surface safety for horses and riders.

The Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory conducts 24 different tests at its lab and in collaboration with supporting labs. These tests have been performed for 50 different clients inside and outside of the United States, with some of the racetracks now in their third year of a comprehensive testing program. The result is that thousands of tests have been conducted for these tracks, which allow surfaces to be compared over time and between racetracks with similar climate and design.

In addition to the testing, the lab is focusing on evaluating which tests are related to track consistency when evaluated over time as well as developing new tests and the reliability of testing. Procedures are also being developed that will lead to ISO certification.

Additional information about the “Racing Surfaces White Paper” is available by contacting Dr. Michael Peterson at [email protected].


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