by Karen Johnson
New York Racing Association racing secretary P.J. Campo said Sept. 19 that NYRA officials will hold a meeting with horsemen in the next “couple days” to discuss maintenance of track surfaces at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.
At a New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association meeting in Saratoga Aug. 31, the organization’s president, trainer Richard Violette, was critical of the maintenance handled by track superintendent John Passero.
In the first six days at Belmont’s fall meet, which opened Sept. 7, four horses were euthanized after suffering catastrophic injuries suffered while racing on the main track. One of them fell over a horse who had broken his leg.
Another runner, graded stakes winner Tiz Wonderful, suffered a career-ending and potentially life-threatening suspensory injury when he was galloping back after finishing second in the Sept. 13 More Than Ready Stakes.
On Sept. 17, two horses were euthanized after suffering catastrophic injuries on Belmont’s training track. Find The Chestnut, trained by Gary Contessa, was euthanized after being injured in a race Sept. 7.
Contessa, who has run more than 40 horses at the meet through Sept. 19 and is the leading trainer, maintains Belmont’s main track is in perfect condition.
“I don’t feel there is anything wrong with this track and I run 3, 8, 9 horses a day,” said Contessa, whose stable is based at Aqueduct. “I don’t see that Find The Chestnut’s breakdown was track-related. The rider said the horse took a bad step.”
Several trainers, who indicated they had issues with the maintenance of the tracks at Belmont declined to speak on the record.
Jockey John Velazquez said, “I don’t ride during the morning, but in the afternoon the track is decent. These could be freak things. The only thing I can say is that (the surface) changes day to day, sometimes race to race.”
Campo said, “I think it depends upon who you ask as far as the trainers (go). The trainers need to pinpoint specifically what (dirt) surfaces they are speaking about because (at Belmont) we have a main track, a training track, and a pony track.”
“Charlie (Hayward), myself or John (Passero) can address this a little better, if there is a problem, when complaints are more track-specific. Hopefully, in the next couple of days we will sit down with a few trainers and iron out everything and move forward.”