Ehalt: Task force offers hope after as dark a winter as NYRA has ever endured

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Spring tulips Spring tulips

ESPN’s Bob Ehalt is grateful that spring has finally arrived, not only for the change of scenery at Aqueduct where racing has moved from the winterized inner track to the main track, but because it brings with it a hope that some normalcy may return to the sport.

It has been a harsh winter at the New York track, with 20 fatalities in less than four months of racing over the inner track. Hope now rests in part with a newly formed task force that will undertake an all-encompassing analysis in an attempt to determine if there is a definitive cause for the increase in the number of catastrophic breakdowns.


“The task force’s findings will be made public, adding some transparency to the process and giving off more hope that something beneficial might ultimately arise from as dark a winter as NYRA has ever endured,” writes Ehalt.

“Spring, what took you so long to get here?”

» Read more at ESPN.com
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  • voiceofreason

    “a hope that some normalcy may return to the sport.”

    Hoping for a return of normalcy, of THIS sport? Really? Can’t wait to get back to the normalcy of ignoring the facts, corruption, lack of vision, and mistreatment? Normalcy is the LAST thing we need.

    Spring has not arrived for this sport.  Our winter grows colder with each passing day.

  • Allynn

    “TASK FORCE” SOUNDS LIKE A BROKE JOKE THIS DAY & TIME!!!…NIXON IS GONE & LET THOSE TWO WORDS & “THE WAR ON DRUGS!!!” BEE GONE WITH HIM…JUST CLEAN UP “THE GAME”…GET BUSY!!!…

  • Robb

    The rash of horse fatalities at Aqueduct is troubling, but I fear an overreaction is well underway here.  First, there were more horses resulting from the higher purses being offered.  More horses running, more chances of injury.  And some of these horses shouldn’t have been running as frequently as they were.  That falls on the owners, not the track.  Second, this was one of the warmest, if not the warmest, winters on record.  There was no snow (ironic since the last two days of racing at Belmont last fall were cancelled by a freak October snowstorm).  The last two weeks have felt more like early May than mid March.  The inner track is more suited toward a colder climate, and offers more give to the horses when the weather is colder because that’s what the track is designed to be– a good and safe surface to run in when it’s consistently 25 degrees, not 50.

    Increasing the minimum claim from $7,500 to $15,000 will help, especially in improving the quality of the field.  I would hope that the task force concludes that this, along with instituting a minimum wait period of five days between races for claimers, maidens, starter allowance or starter handicap runners, will help reduce the breakdown rate.  Physically, there isn’t much that NYRA can do other than A.) Cancel the inner track meet and offer no racing between the Saturday after Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day (not going to happen); or B.) Reconstruct the racing surfaces at Aqueduct.  Let’s face it, they haven’t been reconstructed in a very long time.  The main track could use an overhaul so it can be used in early March (the way it used to be).  

    If the turns on the inner track can’t be widened, then replace the dirt surface with a synthetic surface.  Polytrack can withstand bad winter weather, has a safer surface and (while some dirt horses hate it) will allow other turf runners to remain in New York other than ship to Gulfstream for the winter.  Run on the inner track from December through early March, return to the Main Track in time for the Gotham Stakes in early March.  NYRA could even keep the synthetic track in use during the fall and spring and offer races on all three surfaces.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christine.peniaranda Christine Peniaranda

    this is some good news. i love horses like 70 million other people and i used to be enamored with racing till i saw sweet Barbaro  and Eight Belles.  this has got to END. smaller fields. c’mon gentlelmen! these faithful horses bust ass to make you rich! please !

  • Ted Mudge

    C’mon man. Task force is a good thing?? The first thing the wanted to know was now much money there was available …to pay themselves. To find out what the problems were, they just need to go see the Chief, and ask him.

  • Ridindirty3

    So if your on a task force investigating horses breaking down at an accelerated rate on the Aqueduct inner track….what do you do? Is Aqueduct gonna let you scan or dig up the track to find out its got holes in it or is uneven and unsafe in many spots? Does anybody remember in the last five years…BEFORE THE SLOTS…when NYRA was about to go broke? Do you think they had money to PROPERLY maintain that track? Were they just hoping to make it through until they DID get the money to fix the track?

  • stillriledup

    You don’t need a task force to tell you what’s going on. Its pretty obvious that NYRA has trouble filling fields, when that happens, horses are run back when they’re not ready, to, ya know, ‘help out’ the racing office. For all of you who are owners, there’s no doubt that at some point, your trainer or you have helped the office fill a race when you werent really 100% ready to run. Sure, you were 90% and you stuck that horse in the box, but it wasnt your ‘ideal’ spot.

    Another factor is that trainer’s arent as good and as caring as they used to be. Now, many trainers are just administrators who are running large barns, some of these ‘supertrainers’ have shot up the training ranks ‘overnight’ and now are superstars in the world of training.

    Really? I dont want to mention any names, but when a guy you’ve never heard of starts winning 35 or 40 percent, that’s the stuff that makes you go “HUH?”

    It comes down to this. If you want safer races, you’re going to have to really be vigilant on what horses are running on your tracks. But as we all know, the shorter the fields, the smaller the betting handle…..tracks have incentive to have as many runners as they can out on the track.

  • Convene

    A couple of things bother me about increasing bottom claimer purses. Some will try running them more often to squeeze as much out of them as possible while they can still pass a vet check. Also I fear anyone with a horse, even TB’s bought as hacks, may be hustled off to the track in hopes of cashing in on the new purses. It’s an idea with its intentions in the right place but I guess I don’t have a lot of faith in mankind and I fear it opens the door to abuse. For which, of course, the horses will pay most of all.

  • wallyhorse

    A better idea than that would be to reconstruct the main track at Aqueduct to where it can be used year-round without a problem, very similar to what many other tracks (especially for instance Parx, which races year-round) and Laurel (which does race in late summer when it can be still hot outside and through the winter) do.  It doesn’t have to be drastic, just enough so that the track can handle all kinds of weather, just like the inner track has done in the past (remember, NYRA has in the past run baby races on the inner in April even after racing has moved back to the main strip, and sometimes in downright hot weather more conducive to July than April).  With the main track winterized enough that it can be used throughout the time at Aqueduct, that would allow the inner track to be converted back to the turf course it once was and possibly even allow grass racing to be run further into December if weather permits.

    What really in my opinion needs to be is to reduce racing dates to more realistic levels as I wrote in an earlier reply as follows:

    No racing from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until Dec. 26, then racing every day through New Year’s (Jan. 1, 2, 3 or 4 depending on the calendar) and then Saturdays and Sundays only for the rest of January. Fridays would be added in February and March (with racing added in January on MLK day and in February on Presidents Day) and Thursdays added from March-end of the Belmont Spring meet (with three day weeks when Palm and Easter Sunday hit, racing added Memorial Day and a Monday program with a special 5:00 PM first post run in place of Sunday following the Belmont Stakes, Belmont Stakes day now 15 races starting at 11:00 AM) with the Belmont Spring meet ending with a special Wednesday-after-the-All-Star-Game twilight program and a week-plus off before Saratoga).

    Saratoga is where five day a week racing comes back on a Thursday-Monday basis, with eight race programs (nine on opening week) carrying a 3:00 PM start on Thursdays and Fridays and weekend programs carrying a 12:30 PM first post, with Saturdays 13 races, Sundays 12 races and Mondays eight or nine races depending on whether the first race is a steeplechase event (Mondays, except closing day would open with a jump race).  The only exceptions to this schedule have Travers day being 15 races opened by the New York Turf Writers Cup over the jumps with first post at 10:30 AM and closing day being 13 races starting at Noon.  There would be 11 days off after Saratoga before the fall meet starts at Belmont.

    The Belmont and Aqueduct fall meets would be the only other times there would be five-day-a-week racing, Wednesday-Sunday through the Saturday of Thanksgiving starting following an 11-day break after Saratoga.

    That to me keeps racing year round with enough time off and a more realistic schedule for this day and age.

  • A fan

    Christine :  as horrible as the Barbaro and Eight Belles disasters were, they were accidents:  no pre-existing unsoundness, no medication … just accidents, which can and do happen to horses (people, too) anywhere and anytime, when they put a foot wrong … and horses don’t think, Uh,oh! I think I hurt myself; better stop!
    The industry can and does do everything possible to keep unsound horses from running, keep horses from being over-medicated ..but it’s impossible to prevent accidents……Same is true in eventing, show jumping, steeplechasing …even pleasure riding.   Accidents happen.  Don’t deprive yourself of the positives in this wonderful sport!             ..another fan

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