In an effort to avoid another Life At Ten situation, the Breeders’ Cup, Churchill Downs, and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission have adopted new policies that will be in effect for this year’s World Championships Nov. 4-5.
According to an announcement from the three organizations, the new policies relate primarily to communication and responsibilities of the veterinarians, stewards, and other officials on race day.
The new measures include:
--Establishment of a Communications Command Center at Churchill Downs, staffed by a KHRC employee who is also an accredited steward. The Communications Command Center will monitor all radio channels used by the veterinary team and track personnel, television broadcasts, simulcast and on-track feeds;
--Designating one of the three stewards to be in the paddock during saddling for each race;
--Instituting easily identifiable uniforms with the words VET TEAM in large block letters for both the KHRC and Breeders’ Cup veterinarian team members to aid race participants;
--Inclusion of the stewards and representatives of the Jockeys’ Guild in a pre-event television production meeting; and,
--Advance meetings with the Jockeys’ Guild regarding on-track veterinary team and pre-race communications protocols.
Life At Ten, owned by Candy DeBartolo and trained by Todd Pletcher, finished last in the 2010 Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) as the second choice at odds of 7-2. With jockey John Velazquez aboard, Life At Ten had no run when the field left the gate, and she was not persevered with throughout the race.
Before the race, Velazquez told retired jockey Jerry Bailey, who was assisting with the ESPN coverage of the Breeders’ Cup, that the filly was not warming up as she normally does, but did not relay those concerns to the stewards or any KHRC veterinarians.
The day after the Ladies’ Classic, trainer Todd Pletcher said it appeared that Life At Ten had an allergic reaction to Salix, a medication she was treated with prior to the race.
The KHRC immediately undertook an investigation that looked into, among other things, who had knowledge of Velazquez’ comments prior to the race and whether action should have been taken to have the filly inspected and/or scratched.
A report stemming from the investigation determined there was no intentional wrongdoing, but cited a sequence of communication breakdowns and some vagueness about responsibilities that led to questions about what action should have been taken before and after the race with regard to Life At Ten.
The KHRC found probable cause that Velazquez and chief steward John Veitch had violated rules of racing in connection with the incident. Although he did not admit to violating any rules of racing, Velazquez paid a $10,000 fine, half of which went to charity.
The case against Veitch is pending, with both parties having spent more than $100,000 on the case. A hearing officer is working on a report and recommendation stemming from three days of hearings that were conducted this summer.
“The circumstances of last year’s Ladies’ Classic were unprecedented and initiated us to work with the KHRC and our hosts at Churchill Downs to take steps needed to make sure all individuals of the on-track safety team have access to the same information in real time,” said Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup president and CEO, in a statement. “Together with the KHRC, we will also be working with the Guild and meeting with the jockeys to make sure they understand their responsibilities and that the commission veterinarians and the stewards are the final arbiters for deciding whether to scratch a horse.”
“Protecting the integrity of horse racing is paramount to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission,” said KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood in the release. “The transparency of the report prepared after the Ladies’ Classic and the recommendations presented in the report helped foster this collaborative effort to make improvements regarding the safety and integrity of horse racing. The implementation of these new measures is indicative of the success of that collaboration.”
“In an era in which information travels around the globe in seconds, it is more important than ever that the basic communication among our key personnel on the ground be fast, clear, and efficient,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. “We appreciate the opportunity to work with the Breeders’ Cup and the KHRC in establishing these policies that will benefit not only the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, but also Churchill Downs and other tracks throughout North America as we present our big events and daily racing programs.”