Alliance Eyes Spot Checks After NY Report

A task force indicated vets at NYRA tracks may not have had access to information.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance plans to do spot checks to ensure accredited racetracks are adhering to its code of standards, an alliance official said Sept. 29.

The move stems from a task force report that studied a spate of catastrophic breakdowns at Aqueduct Racetrack in New York during its 2011-12 fall/winter meet. The report, released Sept. 28, examined veterinary procedures at New York Racing Association tracks as part of its assessment.

Aqueduct, as well as Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course, have received accreditation and re-accreditation from the alliance. Tracks are eligible to be re-accredited every two years.

The task force report said NYRA veterinarians follow the alliance protocol for pre-race exams but told the task force they were unaware of, or hadn't seen, the written protocol. It also said examining vets "did not have access to past performances, high-speed exercise history, or historical exam findings to review prior to pre-race exams."

The report said Dr. Anthony Verderosa, the chief examining vet who is employed by NYRA, would review the information and inform the examining vets about "horses he determined to be of interest." The examining vets on the ground told the task force that "significant findings, such as detection of heat/fever in a limb, resistance to palpation or flexion, or subtle lameness were not to be included in a horse's regulatory health record."

In Kentucky for example, regulatory vets that do pre-race exams use an InCompass computer program that logs all pertinent information each time a horse is examined. The examining vets report to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

The report proved embarrassing to New York Thoroughbred racing, which considers itself the capital of racing in the United States. The task force indicated many of the vet-related issues stem from the fact examining vets report to the NYRA racing office, which is considered a conflict of interest when it comes to safety.

An adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who called for the task force report, said examining vets would be removed from racing office oversight as quickly as possible.

As its name suggests, the alliance was created in part to foster integrity in racing. That would include adhering to protocol after accreditation is received, officials said.

Alliance executive director Mike Zeigler said NYRA vets "did exactly what was expected" when alliance officials carried out the racetrack accreditations. He said the alliance received written protocols that were in line with the alliance code of standards.

"I'll be the first to admit one of the limitations of the (accreditation) is that it's a snapshot-in-time assessment," Ziegler said. "That's why they're supposed to have a compliance program, which is part of the accreditation.

"I think we're going to have to start spot-checking to give more teeth to the alliance. My solution would be random inspections."

Ziegler said two members of the New York task force–Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and Dr. Scott Palmer, who chaired the task force–already sit on an alliance committee that will examine the task force findings and look to improve the alliance code of standards.

NTRA officials said the alliance will follow up with NYRA to ensure it is in compliance with the code of standards.

"We applaud the work undertaken by the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety," NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said Sept. 28. "The recommendations are comprehensive and far-reaching. The NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance Advisory Board will meet soon to consider ways to implement these recommendations on a nationwide basis by inclusion in the alliance code of standards."