Development of a system for the in-situ characterisation of thoroughbred horse racing track surfaces

M. L. Peterson, C. Wayne McIlwraith, Raoul F. Reiser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


A significant challenge in the operation of a thoroughbred horse racing venue is the optimisation of the racetrack for fairness, consistency and the reduction of safety concerns. Trainers, jockeys, owners and the betting public expect a properly maintained track for racing and training. Currently the track condition is evaluated in qualitative terms such as "fast and hard" or "wet." Maintenance of the surface depends on the experience and judgement of the track superintendent. Improved methods to test the track by measuring functional parameters would benefit horses and jockeys whilst keeping the sport open to innovative track designs. The surface loading conditions of the track materials in horse racing are unique. More than 9 kN of force is applied during each stride to the contact area of the hoof. The hoof contact area is approximately 9500 mm2 and the hoof moves downward at a speed of more than 5 m s-1 during each stride. This paper describes work on a system that simulates the initial impact and loading phase of the gait of a horse at a gallop. The system applies to the track an impact velocity and load that approximates that of a horse during galloping while also acquiring five channels of data. Data from a load cell is monitored and the vertical and horizontal accelerations are obtained from the device measurement. Initial base-line data from tracks around the United States showed a large coefficient of variation for the two simple measured parameters considered in this paper; i.e. the peak load and the ratio of the horizontal to the vertical acceleration. The ability to detect a change in the harrow depth due to a malfunctioning implement at one track was demonstrated. The potential now exists for superintendents to develop track maintenance techniques which ensure that different tracks have the same performance characteristics. This is similar to techniques that are used to compare soccer and other sports pitches [FIFA (2006). Handbook of Test Methods for Football Turf, March 2006 ed., Federation Internationale de Football Association, Zurich, Switzerland]. This measurement technique will allow the effects of maintenance on the track performance to be evaluated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-269
Number of pages10
JournalBiosystems Engineering
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Support for this work has been provided by the American Quarter Horse Association, the California Association of Racing Fairs, Santa Anita Racetrack, Hollywood Park Racetrack, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Fairplex Park, California Thoroughbred Trainers, Thoroughbred Owners of California and Equine Orthopaedic Research Fund. Track superintendents Steve Wood and Dennis Moore provided technical assistance and helped to identify and gain access to a number of the facilities tested. This work could not have been done without Howard Zucker who syndicated the test machine for the first one year campaign.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Soil Science


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