Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory

Race Track and Arena Surface Testing

Founding Researchers​

Prof. Michael "Mick" Peterson, Ph.D.​

Michael “Mick” Peterson, Ph.D. is the Director of the Racetrack Safety Program and Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky. He is also the Executive Director and a co-founder of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory. Dr. Peterson’s research links traditional understanding of engineering mechanics and materials to the biomechanics of animals. Dr. Peterson’s passion is for increasing our understanding and the consistency of equine sport surfaces, especially Thoroughbred racing surfaces. Originating with ultrasonic imaging work on bone remodeling more than 25 years ago his equine research has gradually grown to encompass a wide range of testing, data collection and basic research on granular materials. He has published more than 100 refereed journal articles, 4 book chapters or guides, 6 patents, and more than 150 conference proceedings.

Prof. C. Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc (DVM), PhD, FRCVS, DSc, Dr. med vet (hc), Diplomate ACVS

C. Wayne McIlwraith is a founding researcher of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and a board member. Dr. McIlwraith’s research has been devoted to equine joint disease. He is a pioneer in the use of arthroscopy in the investigation of equine joint injuries and has investigated the use of medications and biological therapies in treating bone disease in healing, the use of biomarkers to diagnose cartilage and bone damage, as well as developing the use of gene therapy and novel methods of articular cartilage repair. Dr. McIlwraith is internationally renowned for the significance of his contributions to the field of equine orthopedics. Included among the many awards he has received are the Tierklinik Hochmoor Prize, the Winners Circle Award for Outstanding Achievements in American Quarter Horse Racing, and the John Hickman Award for Equine Orthopaedics. A diplomate in the American and European colleges of Veterinary Surgeons, Dr. McIlwraith is a member of the International Society of Arthroscopy and Knee Surgery, Phi Zeta Veterinary Honor Society, and Veterinary Orthopedic Society. He has authored or co-authored 10 textbooks and numerous scientific publications. He is on the editorial review boards of the Journal of Veterinary Surgery and the Equine Veterinary Journal.

RSTL Staff

Kaleb Dempsey

Kaleb Dempsey is the Chief Technology Officer of Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL). Kaleb began equine surface research and testing in 2014 under Dr. John Bridge with a primary focus on synthetic racing surfaces and materials testing. In 2017 he received his Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington Bothell and began working full time at RSTL upon graduation. His work has increased the efficiency of lab testing and data quality through use of automating data processing, improved test methods, and development of new data collection and measurement devices such as an electronic longchamp penetrometer.

Patrick Erbland, Ph.D.

Patrick Erbland, Ph.D. rejoined the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL), in June of 2022, as the Chief Scientist. He previously worked as a testing engineer from 2016-2019. Dr. Erbland brings a wide range of knowledge and experience having worked in natural resource management, biology, ecology and agri/aquaculture. His experience includes hydroacoustic testing and he will apply novel analysis methods to related data to some of the work with ground penetrating radar. His laboratory expertise also provides important background experience for laboratory testing at RSTL. Currently he is responsible for a portion of the on-site testing and is the technical lead on testing and analysis of particle size distribution.

Mackenzie Rockefeller

Mackenzie Rockefeller is the Laboratory Manager of Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL). Mackenzie graduated in 2021 from the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science in Equine Science and Management. She has been competitively show-jumping horses since she was a child. Mackenzie began working for RSTL as an intern in the Spring of 2021, and has been full-time at RSTL since graduation. Since starting at the lab, she has focused primarily on the development and testing of the Maintenance Quality System database, but has also aided in lab composition and performance testing, and improving the organization and workflow of daily tasks and on-going projects. From January to March of 2022, she spent six weeks in Australia working for the University of Melbourne and Racing Victoria as a consultant from RSTL, conducting surveys on training centers including their track dimensions, maintenance practices, and general management of their tracks.

LaRodra’ Cox

LaRodra’ Cox is a Laboratory Testing Technician at the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL). In May of 2023, LaRodra’ graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Equine Science and Management from the University of Kentucky. He joined the field of equine surface testing immediately following graduation in May, where he began working full-time at RSTL. LaRodra’s primary responsibilities include, but are not limited to, performing composition and performance testing on racetrack and arena samples, processing the data from testing, and creating reports.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson is a Testing Engineer at the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL). Andrew joined the lab in summer of 2018 and received his undergraduate degree in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering from the University of Kentucky in the spring of 2019. Since starting at the lab, he has worked primarily in testing which has also included in-situ testing on race tracks and equestrian surfaces across the country. He is currently helping to validate new in-lab testing methods and has worked on design of surface testing equipment. His research interests are in biomechanics, design and materials.

Branden Brookfield, M.S.

Branden Brookfield is an On-site Testing Technician at the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL). Branden obtained his masters in Sports Administration from Eastern Kentucky University in the fall of 2021 and joined the lab in the spring of 2023 after holding multiple jobs within racing. Most recently as the Technology Specialist with racing surfaces at Keeneland Racecourse where he was in charge of taking daily track measurements as well as operating track maintenance equipment. He is currently helping with on-site testing at RSTL.

Undergraduate Intern/Research Asst

Lexy Willis

Lexy Willis is an Undergraduate Intern/Research Assistant at the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory (RSTL). Lexy is currently a Junior at the University of Kentucky, striving towards her Bachelor’s degree in Equine Science and Management and a minor in Biology. She has spent her life surrounded by animals and wishes to devote her time to the betterment of their care. Lexy is not only passionate about animals, but she also takes great interest in natural sciences. Her primary responsibilities include working with Mackenzie Rockefeller and the University of Melbourne to compile data collected in a survey for Racing Victoria, including 15 training facilities across Victoria, as well as helping RSTL with Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) data collection and organization.

Continuing Graduate Researchers

Peter Schmitt

Self supported, part time

Peter Schmitt is a PhD candidate in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky. His research emphasis is on the design, construction, and maintenance of turfgrass horse racing surfaces with the intent of making them as safe as possible for both the horses and jockeys. This research focus is a fascinating combination of his background and interests, merging a turfgrass focus which is a natural extension of his love of golf with his engineering background to the examine the hoof-surface interaction. He is passionate about solving problems, building relationships, and making a positive impact on the horse racing industry both here in Kentucky and around the world. Peter has BS and MS degrees from Purdue University in Agricultural and Biological Engineering as well as 11 years of industry experience in the design and application engineering of Diesel engine powertrains

María Alejandra Blanco

Self supported, part time

María Alejandra Blanco is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Agronomy of University of Buenos Aires. She is researching two building systems of footing of sand and turfgrass for equestrian surfaces. She is an agricultural engineer with a Magister in Vegetal Production from University of Buenos Aires. Currently, she is based in Argentina working as equestrian surfaces constructor and consultant for her own company Grass and Horses throughout Latin America. She has become an advisor in Latin America racecourses associated with RSTL. She has been building and doing consultancy in sport fields for the last 25 years. As a horse rider, she became an advisor to breeders and horse farms about pastures and footing. That closeness to horses triggered her interests in equestrian surfaces to become a full-time career. She also has been teaching and researching in Forage Science and Turfgrass Science in several universities. Currently, she is teaching at Faculty of Agronomy at Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina (UCA).

Daniel Schmidt

Self supported, part time

Daniel Schmidt is the Research Farrier at Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory. He received his BS in Animal Science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2016. Daniel held various positions on Thoroughbred farms throughout Lexington before attending Kentucky Horse Shoeing School’s three-month training program. While working towards his PhD in Agricultural Engineering and Biomechanics Daniel will bring valuable practical and physiological insight to RSTL. Daniel currently splits his time between his PhD program, RSTL, his business ventures and caring for his personal riding horses. Daniel currently runs his own farrier practice, BTE Farriery, and a Thoroughbred sales venture, BTE Stables.

Sydney Cannon

Support provided by an agricultural safety training grant supplemented by RSTL

Sydney Cannon is a Masters student in Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on water trucks and the appropriate application of moisture to racetracks. Combining her background in racehorses with her engineering training, Sydney is working to improve the safety factor of the industry that raised her. She hopes to help the horse racing industry continue to thrive. Sydney has a BS in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering from Oklahoma State University, as well as a minor in Ag Economics/Agribusiness and a certificate in Equine Enterprise Management. She also works as an independent contractor for racehorse sales across the country.