By MARK HOFFMAN
For the Recorder
This past week, the New York State Racing and Wagering board approved new sets of rules in response to the reported high number of thoroughbred break downs at NYRA tracks this past winter. The changes will provide more disclosure to the public on the use of corticosteroids and other types of substances that can mask the pain in thoroughbreds.
This should provide greater safety to horses in lower claiming races also. With the recent increase in purses on the NYRA circuit due to the VLT revenue at Aqueduct, there are more lower level thoroughbreds racing for bigger purses against higher quality racehorses. This was thought to contribute to the increased breakdown rate last winter at Aqueduct.
These rules changes will serve as a model for all racing jurisdictions and will significantly increase the safety of horses and riders. Here are the rule changes, set forth by the task force committee on horse race health and safety. Rule one: "Allowing voiding of claims of horses that are vanned off the track after a race, requiring disclosure of corticosteroid administrations and drug treatments to stewards and claimants, expanding the Racing and Wagering Board's out-of-competition drug testing program, implementing stricter and lengthier time frames for the administration of corticosteroids and Clenbuterol before a race."
These new rulings will apply to all thoroughbred racing in New York State; including Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Finger Lakes Race Track.
This also includes voiding a claim for a horse that is vanned off the track, within one hour of the race. The existing rule where a claim is voided if a claimed horse dies on the track remains in place. Providing proof to the claimant of a horse shall be notified, within 48 hours after the claim is finalized, of any corticosteroid administrations to the horse within 30 days of the race and providing that the trainer shall maintain accurate records of all corticosteroid joint injections to horses trained by them.
The leader of the state racing and wagering board, chairman of the task force on racehorse health and safety and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club all alluded to these new rules and changes for the betterment of the sport. It's the first of many thoroughbred-related rulings that Governor's office has set forth to improve the racing image in New York. This and the ongoing saga of NYRA has gotten the attention of many state officials, especially the governor. While these new measures will improve the safety of thoroughbreds, riders and owners claiming horses, the main reason it was brought to light was because of the increased purses in low level claiming races. With cheaper horses running for higher purses, will the future not bode well for the lower level claiming races?
The VLT money from Aqueduct has been a great benefit to the horsemen in New York. Increased purses mean more trainers and owners will come to NYRA tracks. But at NYRA's lowest levels, there may be caution in the future with high purses and not-so-healthy horses. Money may be cut for the lowest-level claimers in fear that in will promote unhealthy horses entered.
With the new safety rules, this may be eliminated. But, horses do breakdown and with racing year-round in New York and under severe weather conditions, the fatality rate may continue. So even with the new rules enacted, thoroughbred racing may still be under the microscope in the future in New York and the almighty dollar will come into question.