NYRA to consider synthetic racing surface, other changes at upcoming board meeting

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New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) Chair David Skorton and Anthony Bonomo, Chair of NYRA’s Equine Health and Safety Committee, announced today the immediate establishment of the position of Equine Veterinary Medical Director. The new director will establish the Mortality Review Board, as recommended in the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety report issued September 28, 2012, as well as make ongoing assessments to improve the health and safety of horses competing at NYRA racetracks.

Additionally, NYRA has begun to transport all euthanized horses to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell for complete necropsies.

These actions address the recent catastrophic breakdowns at Aqueduct Racetrack. Four horses – El Macho (December 13, Race 1), Bomber Boy (January 6, Race 7), Wildcat’s Smile (January 6, Race 8) and Pleasantfriday (January 10, Race 5) – were injured and euthanized since racing began on the inner track on December 12. Racing on the inner track at Aqueduct is scheduled at this time to continue through March 30, though an earlier move to the main track would be considered, weather permitting.

“NYRA is taking immediate steps to try to prevent more catastrophic injuries from occurring,” said Skorton. “We are establishing a new position, Equine Veterinary Medical Director, to be in charge of the health and safety of horses at all NYRA tracks and direct investigations into these unfortunate events. In addition to these immediate actions, we will soon be making decisions on several specific operational issues in the interest of equine health and safety.”

“Addressing the problem of breakdowns at NYRA is our first priority. We will do everything to protect the jockeys and the horses,” added Bonomo.

NYRA’s veterinary department will report to the Equine Veterinary Medical Director, who will be based on-track at NYRA facilities.

Under newly established on-track standard operating procedures, complete necropsies will now be performed at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell by a board-certified pathologist with medical records and history from the Equine Veterinary Medical Director and NYRA attending veterinarians. These necropsy reports will be incorporated into a new NYRA database that tracks all injuries and mortalities occurring on NYRA tracks, and will comprise a component of the investigation of each fatality by NYRA’s new Mortality Review Board.

“The appointment of the Equine Veterinary Medical Director clears the way to establish a NYRA Mortality Review Board, one of the key recommendations of the Task Force,” stated Ellen McClain, NYRA President and COO. “These new steps will add to a number of recommendations NYRA has implemented during the three months since the Task Force released its report. A major step forward is the development of electronic record keeping. We are aggregating moisture content, weather data and other maintenance information in a single database. Working with industry experts, we are developing the nation’s most sophisticated method of data collection, which will ultimately enable evaluation of injuries in the context of track conditions.”

The following additional changes to NYRA policies and operations will be considered by the NYRA Board at its meeting on January 25:

    Reduce the number of racing days in a week during the inner-track season at Aqueduct.

    Limit the number of races on a given day during the inner-track season.

    Bolster overall security measures related to pre-race security and racing integrity.

    Install a synthetic surface for the inner track at Aqueduct for 2013-14 Winter season.

    Curtail racing on the inner track at Aqueduct.

“The NYRA Board will have serious discussions next week to consider all these important issues that affect the health and safety of our jockeys and horses,” said Skorton.

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  • BonnieMcDo

    I think the consideration of a  synthetic track is a good idea. Turfway put their track in in 2005 and in one article it was stated that they had below the national average for breakdowns. Last year from Dec 1 to Feb 5 they had 3676 starts over 40 race days and only one breakdown. One article also mentioned shoeing as a reason for injuries and once that was identified things got better.  A study about this change of track surface is welcomed. My horse stayed in Ky with a trainer there and works out at Keeneland and had his first start at Turfway.  He is really a dirt horse but I did not want him at Aqueduct this winter. He won in his first start and is doing fine. The weather has been similar in Ky and NY this year and last.  Who knows if this is the reason for the 4 recent breakdowns at Aqueduct. But– Any discussions to try and stop breakdowns is important. 

  • Stephen Zorn

    Synth may be the right answer, but there’s precious little science supporting the switch. Lower breakdown rates, yes, but also, apparently, higher rates for some types of non-catastrophic but career-threatening injuries. Note that last year’s Task Force report on Aqueduct breakdown did not find any evidence that the AQU inner-track surface was a factor.

  • Thelibrarian

    Why don’t they use the outer track when the weather is good and when it’s COLD use the inner track?

  • Tinky

    Exactly correct re: trading one type of injury for another. Soft tissue injuries almost never lead to fatal breakdowns, but they tend to be even more “catastrophic” than bone injuries with regard to full recoveries for racing purposes.

    Also, a synthetic track during the winter will create new problems, as many horses on the circuit will be better suited to dirt, and may not adapt well to synth. Many will also be training on a different surface, unless the same synthetic replaces the training track at Belmont. 

  • sittin’ chilly

     All good ideas to consider. But without being willing to institute strict pre-race exams which will invariably reduce field size (and handle), they are kidding themselves. I know for a fact on of the horses involved was unsound and headed for an iceberg.

  • Perilous

    Pre-race medication needs to be eliminated. Without the help of medication the majority of these horses would not pass the pre-vet exam.

  • Art7105

    Just curious, Have seen at least 3 breakdowns at Santa Anita this season which didn’t start until 12/26. May have been more as I don’t usually see the complete card. Why is there nothing said about these ? Is there a problem with Santa Anita also ? Seems like everyone is out to “get” NYRA. If there is a problem with multiple tracks they should all get the same attention.

  • Jack

    I think it is too expensive and time consuming to maintain 2 tracks simultaneously 

  • Jack

    I’d like to see stats for catastrophic breakdowns going back to 1950.  If the numbers are on the rise, I think you can safely put the blame in two places, medication and breeding.   It’s easy to change medication rules, but encouraging breeders to breed more stout horses would require an overhaul of the entire system.  

    If they are serious about horse welfare, here are two ideas…..All medications and injections must be reported to NYRA and made available to the public on the web-site (would only require hiring a minimum wage employee to enter all info).  They do this in Hong Kong.  Secondly, a bit more radical, change claiming rules so that any interested claim can be dropped up to 15 minutes after the race is made official.   This would discourage trainers and owners from dropping/racing cripples to get rid of them.   

  • NY Owner

    Please! It’s not helpful to make blanket assumptions with no first hand knowledge.

  • NY Owner

    NYRA has changed their claiming rules so that if a horse breaks down in a race, the claim is voided.  A step at least in the right direction.

  • Elktonstable

    Winter racing surfaces are by necessity more laboring for all horses. The composits used for these surfaces must be able to drain rapidly to avoid freezing and clumping when temperatures drop. A a result the surface texture may cause problems for some horses no matter how well it is maintained. The heavier texture of a winter surface may make it more difficult for horses to break over during a running stride. It is widely known that a horses heel lands first which may cause the cushion to snow plow and collect under the toe just before breakover. If the cushion does not disperse to a certain extent, an increased amount of torque will affect the leg. This is probably different for every horse to a degree. Some have a serious issue adapting to such a phenomenon. Signs of this can be extremely difficult if not impossible to identify. Perhaps a move toward a synthetic surface may solve the problem.

  • Thelibrarian

    RIGHT….’cause it’s REALLY CHEAP & EASY to have the NY TIMES writing articles, necropsy’s performed by Cornell & multi-million dollar artificial surfaces installed.

  • Goatinthestable

    It’s neat to say that horse racing is a sport of tradition.  However, tradition can also be construed as leary of making changes.  NYRA, please evolve and but in safer surfaces.  That’s what you can immediately change/control.  As far as medication, that’s on the vets/trainers until legislation is passed.

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