No major problems were reported at Belmont Park on opening day, which marked the debut of race-day security barns. The reaction, however, was mixed.
The New York Racing Association in March announced plans to launch the initiative May 4, when the spring meet began. And while not everything was perfect, and not everyone happy, the mission began on schedule.
"I think anytime there is change, especially when it involves inconveniencing people, there is going to be resistance," NYRA senior vice president Bill Nader said. "I think it went well enough (May 4) that by next week, it should be running pretty smoothly."
Among the early concerns is the clear view of the racetrack from some of the security stalls, a sight that could charge up horses already out of their element in the new barns. Nader said shrubs would be planted shortly to rectify the problem.
The new mandates requires that horses report to the security barn in shifts, at least six hours prior to the originally scheduled post time of their races. The reporting times are grouped three races at a time, which means horses running in the third, sixth, and ninth races wait the longest.
"I left my barn at 6:45 (a.m.) to be in the security barn by 7," trainer Richard DeStasio said. "I have 12 horses, and for a guy like me, it is a little inconvenience. I had to hire an extra person, and it is a long day for the backstretch help."
Winning, however, seems to cure ills, and DeStasio was upbeat after his Rodeo Spirit took the top spot in the meet's opening race. "We won today, and that made everything worthwhile," he said. "I think, in the long run, this will bring people back and give the bettors some confidence. What I like is that everybody has to do it, so it is fair. And I think it will level the playing field."
DeStasio echoed the sentiments of Nader, who said there would not be black-and-white evidence of the success of the race-day security barns.
"It works because everyone knows that all horses have to be in the security barn six hours before the race," Nader said. "We really want to ensure that it is a level playing field. And we really want to protect the integrity of the bettors."
Not everyone is on board with the changes. Jimmy Jerkens, who unsaddled the beaten favorites in the early daily double, declined to comment, and Howie Tesher said he doubted six hours in a detention barn would have much impact.
Frank Amonte, assistant to Gary Contessa, called it "a joke." The Contessa horses are stabled a short drive away at Aqueduct, but every minute counts when 7 a.m. is the time they must be on the grounds at Belmont and signed in to the detention barn.
"They're making it harder on everybody," Amonte said. "You have to send your grooms, and only the groom and the trainer are allowed in."
Amonte said when the horses were taken out of the detention barn for the first race, they were not permitted to go through the tunnel to the paddock until the entire field had been assembled.
"If one of those horses gets stirred up and rears or kicks somebody, you could have a major problem over there," he said. "They have 50,000 Pinkertons over there--they should just put one in every barn. I don't understand what they're trying to do."
Nader said he was unaware of the problem. He said the security barns were installed as a permanent measure, and that other racetracks would follow suit.
"Other tracks will follow us, if they have the resources to do it," Nader said. " This is going to cost us between $550,000 and $750,000 a year to do to this. Frankly, we don't have the resources to do it, but we're doing it anyway. It's that important."