by Karen M. Johnson
The Task Force on Retired Racehorses, a state-appointed committee, has planned a summit in Saratoga Springss, N.Y., July 29 to explore the potential for the installation of synthetic surfaces at the state's racetracks.
John Lee, a spokesman for the New York Racing Association, said there are no immediate plans to take such action, but NYRA is “looking carefully at synthetic tracks.”
“Obviously, anybody in racing is studying the use of synthetic tracks around the country, and their success and problems, to a degree,” Lee said May 7. “If we moved in that direction, a logical place to start would be Belmont’s training track.”
In reference to a May 7 Associated Press story that indicated NYRA is considering making a move to synthetic tracks, Lee said: “(AP) got way, way ahead of the story. There is no plan like that now.”
For the cash-constrained NYRA, which is looking to emerge from bankruptcy and get its video lottery terminal operation up and running at Aqueduct, any immediate action to install synthetic surfaces is moot at this point. Lee said he estimates the cost to install a synthetic surface at one of NYRA’s tracks would be “a ballpark figure of $10 million.”
The Task Force on Retired Racehorses held its first meeting in March. Its 13 members were appointed by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and legislative leaders.
One of the members is Jack Knowlton, co-owner of 2003 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Funny Cide. A main objective of the task force is to explore the possibilities of second careers for racehorses when they are retired, and to develop ideas to fund the cost of providing for those horses. Spitzer also asked the panel to research synthetic surfaces.
"It will be an information gathering with disparate stakeholders," Knowlton said. "We want the input from tracks, jockeys, trainers, and people who have done the research on synthetic tracks. Obviously, this has become a hot-button issue after (the death of Eight Belles). We want as much information in front us to be able to report to the state."