Sir Winston (7), with jockey Joel Rosario up, crosses the...

Sir Winston (7), with jockey Joel Rosario up, crosses the finish line to win the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in Elmont, N.Y. The New York Racing Association is launching a study evaluating the impact of various surfaces on equine injuries and fatalities. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

The New York Racing Association is spearheading a study to evaluate the impact of various surfaces on equine injuries and fatalities.

The formation of the all-weather-surfaces committee announced Wednesday comes after spates of horse deaths around the U.S. last year led to questions, criticism and safety reviews on the causes. The gathering of industry leaders came at the request of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, the federally mandated agency that began overseeing the sport in 2022.

The new committee will also study the feasibility of adopting all-weather surfaces nationally. NYRA president and CEO David O'Rourke, who's chairing the nationwide committee, said this is an opportunity to look at everything from weather and temperature impacts to effects on gambling.

“I think really the main theme here would be integration of synthetics and where it makes sense, where it’s economically viable,” O'Rourke told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “Really just look at all the different pieces and put it together and then circle back with HISA and share our findings.”

According to data from the Equine Injury Database, fatalities on synthetic surfaces are roughly half of those on turf and a third of those on dirt tracks: 0.41 per 1,000 starts in 2022, compared to 0.99 and 1.44.

“When you get to the debate of synthetics, there’s a lot of information out there, but it’s not really been brought together comprehensively, not in this format,” O'Rourke said.

NYRA is constructing a 1-mile synthetic-surface track at Belmont Park as part of a $455 million renovation of the venue that has long been home to the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes. The track will use Tapeta, a mix of silica sand, wax and fibers designed to simulate the root structure of turf, a surface Gulfstream Park in South Florida and other American tracks already have.

Late in 2022, NYRA added a Tapeta pony track at Belmont Park that can be used for training in inclement weather and also provide information for how the surface holds up given the climate.

“When you’re in a temperate climate like we are, that’s difficult, so having another surface would give us another option when we’re dealing with foul weather, whether it’s the winter or a statistically rainy period of the year,” O'Rourke said.

Keeneland VP of racing Gatewood Bell, Breeders' Cup CEO Drew Fleming, 1/ST Racing executive vice chairman Craig Fravel and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club president Josh Rubinstein are also on the committee, which does not include a representative from Churchill Downs, which hosts the Kentucky Derby. 1/ST Racing puts on the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said the committee's work “will be essential in deepening our understanding of all-weather surfaces, and we look forward to reviewing the results when complete.”

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