NYRA Committee Discusses Turf Breakdowns

Cameras in barns, tougher penalties also discussed at Aug. 26 meeting.

by Teresa Genaro

A day after two horses broke down in the same race on the turf at Saratoga Race Course the issue dominated a scheduled New York Racing Association Equine Safety Committee.

The committee met via teleconference Aug. 25. Committee chair Anthony Bonomo Sr., whose homebred Heading to Toga was euthanized on the outer turf course earlier in August, said he spoke with P. J. Campo, NYRA's vice president and director of racing, and Glen Kozak, vice president of facilities and racing surfaces, after the latest fatalities.

Kris Royale and Sarava's Dancer broke down in separate incidents in the allowance/optional claiming race on the inner turf Aug. 24 and were euthanized.

While social media discussion of the breakdowns focused on a heavily used turf course that has seen little rain this summer, Bonomo said that walking the course revealed nothing that would lead to the conclusion the surface was at fault in either horse's injury.

Bonomo also reported that at the recent Belmont Park meet, there were two fatal breakdowns in 4,214 starts, a ratio of 0/5 per 1,000 starts, which he said was the lowest since 2005.

The breakdown rate at NYRA tracks came under scrutiny in the winter of 2012, when Aqueduct Racetrack saw a sharp increase in the number of equine fatalities. As a result of the scrutiny, New York governor Andrew Cuomo formed a task force to review the breakdowns and make recommendations for improving equine safety.

One of those recommendations was that NYRA hire an equine medical director. According to Dr. Michael Kotlikoff, special adviser for equine health and safety to the NYRA board and a dean of veterinary medicine at Cornell University, the search for someone to fill that position is expected to be concluded within a month's time.

NYRA president and chief executive officer Chris Kay spoke at length about several initiatives currently in discussion that are designed to improve equine safety, among them installing video cameras in barns and developing several house rules that would augment the state's penalties for medication violations, putting into place additional "stringent" penalties on top of whatever penalties would be assessed by the state.

After the committee meeting, Bonomo said an example of the sort of penalty his committee would like to recommend is that the horses of trainers penalized for drug and medication violations be prohibited from entering races at NYRA tracks.

"Then you restrict their ability to earn," Bonomo said. "And what could happen from that is that an owner says, 'You got a 90-day suspension,' and take his horses somewhere else, so now (trainers) risk losing their business."

Bonomo also noted the charter of the equine safety committee was expanded by the board's governance committee to include jockey safety. The full NYRA board is scheduled to meet Aug. 28 in Saratoga Springs.