by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am
By Ray Paulick
Citing an unusual number of horses that stumbled at the start of their races, the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission recently approved an emergency regulation regarding toe grabs on front shoes, increasing the maximum allowed in dirt races from two to four millimeters. The adoption of rules earlier this year (by the Delaware commission and most other racing commissions or by racetracks in the form of house rules) barring front toe grabs that exceed two millimeters was in line with model rules of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, eligibility guidelines for graded stakes from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's American Graded Stakes Committee, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Integrity Alliance Code of Standards, and the recommendations of the Jockey Club Safety Committee on Shoes and Hoof Care.

Delaware Park received a safety
 accreditation in June from the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. It's not known how the Delaware Racing Commission rule change affects that status.

The policy change, adopted June 23 and effective the following day, may not affect graded stakes at Delaware Park. According to John Wayne, the racing commission's executive director, the policy change will not apply to American Graded Stakes. The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which oversees the American Graded Stakes program, set two new conditions for races to receive a grade in 2009: a ban on anabolic steroids and on front toe grabs exceeding two millimeters.

The regulations were based on studies tying increased incidence of catastrophic breakdowns and injuries to toe grabs. WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner, former chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, presented some of those statistics during a talk at the 2008 Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. , in which he said horses and jockeys may be at higher risk when front toe grabs were worn. 

However, the Delaware commission reversed the regulation for the same reason. “The commission felt that the present regulations were putting jockeys in unnecessary danger,” said Wayne, who added that both the Delaware Jockeys Association and Jockeys' Guild supported the change from two millimeters to four.

Immediately after the regulations on toe grabs went into effect in April, stewards at Delaware Park noticed an increase in the number of horses stumbling coming out of the starting gate and began to track the statistics at Wayne's request. “They noticed two, three or four horses a day were stumbling, and riders were coming off horses.” Wayne also said track maintenance crews and the starting gate crew tried different things to alleviate the increase in stumbles at the start, to no avail.

“Since we made the change (to four millimeters) last month,” Wayne said, “the number of horses stumbling has fallen off the charts.” (Click here to see their report.)

The commission notified both the NTRA and Jockey Club of the change. TOBA officials contacted the commission on Monday seeking clarification.

“We didn't make this decision hastily,” Wayne added.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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