No Race-Day Medication Phaseout at Gulfstream

Had considered phasing out race-day medications, effective with 2011-2012 meet.

Gulfstream Park has backed off plans to try to start a phase-out of race-day medications with the 2011-2012 race meet that runs Dec. 3 through April 8 at the Hallandale Beach, Fla., track.

Also, track president and general manager Tim Ritvo said Gulfstream has made preliminary plans for the placement of a second finish line that will enable it to have 1 1/16-mile races for the first time on the 1 1/8-mile dirt track it installed in 2005.

The possibility of a major change in medications for the Gulfstream meet was first addressed by Gulfstream chairman Frank Stronach in a July 13 letter to Milton Champion, director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. Stronach asked if that state agency would “help me implement a program that will phase out all race-day medication, including (Salix).” (Read story)

Stronach is chairman of Stronach Group, which also owns Thoroughbred tracks in California, Maryland, and Oregon.

In his letter, Stronach said he would like to start a medication phase-out at Gulfstream in 2011-2012.

But Ritvo said that during a mid-August conference call Champion told him and several Stronach Group officials that the Florida DPMW has no current plans to hold public workshops, which would be necessary first steps for any state rules changes on race day medication at Florida Thoroughbred tracks.

Ritvo said Champion expressed an interest in more talks with Gulfstream and others in the industry on medication, as preludes to possible state-run meetings.

“We said we would be ready to hold an industry forum at Gulfstream early next year,” Ritvo said. “He (Champion) said he would be interested. A lot of people, trainers and others are down here for our meet.”

Ritvo added: “Mr. Stronach is committed to ending the race day use of medication. But he will only do that with state regulators and others in the industry. He feels this is needed in the sport, for safety of horses and for public perception.”

He added that the Jockey Club, the Breeders’ Cup and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’s American Graded Stakes Committee have made similar recommendations on race day medication

Officials of the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association would  “absolutely” participate in any meetings at Gulfstream on medication issues, said Kent Stirling, that group’s executive director

After Stronach sent his July 13 letter to the Florida  DPMW, Stirling said he feels that eliminating race day use of Salix “would be a terrible mistake.”

“It would eliminate one medical practice that has proven to be efficacious,” Stirling said. He pointed to results of a study that several veterinarians did on racehorses in South Africa in 2007.

Florida HBPA member trainers race regularly at Gulfstream and at Churchill Downs Inc.-owned Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Ritvo, a former trainer, is a former member of the Florida HBPA board of directors

“We realize that many horsemen come feel there is a need (for Salix),’ Ritvo said. “We would look forward to discussions with them and others.”

Trainer Ken McPeek said he favors a ban on race day Salix for graded stakes, and perhaps other stakes, but not in clamming races. That would be similar to the rules in some South American countries, he said.

“A solution could be something the (American) Graded Stakes Committee has talked about,” he said. “They could tell states, ‘if you don’t ban it (race day Salix) in your stakes, we won’t grade them.' ”

Gulfstream is adding the second finish line largely because of long-standing requests from numerous trainers who regard the 1 1/16 mile distance as a progression to the 1 1/8 mile Florida Derby (gr. I) and the 1 1/4 mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), said Ritvo.

Gulfstream’s second finish line will be about mid-way between the sixteenth pole and the existing finish line, Ritvo said. It will be used only for 1 1/16 mile dirt races.

The starting line for timing of those  races will be about 265 feet from the break for the first turn, Ritvo said.

“For 1 1/8 miles the break to the first turn is and will stay at 310 feet,” he said.

As with its other races, Gulfstream’s 1 1/16 mile races will have a run-up from the gate to the start/timing line.

The run-up lengths will vary, with longer run-ups for larger fields. As with Gulfstream’s 1 1/18 mile dirt races, the maximum field size will be 12.

Ritvo said Gulfstream expects the planned set-up will help resolve any concerns about having a run to the first turn or a stretch run that is too short.

The relatively short run to the turn in 1 1/8-mile dirt races has sometimes led trainers to scratch horses that have drawn outside post positions in races with nine or more horses. But many Gulfstream races at that distance have had fields of 10 or more horses.

Gulfstream announced its plan for a second finish line Aug. 5, when it released its 2011-2012 stakes schedule.

“Several trainers have already told us they will like the 1 1/16 mile distance for 3-year-olds and older horses,” Ritvo said.

He noted that Gulfstream in 2004, its last year with a one-mile track, had 244 dirt races at 1 1/16 miles. In 2011, Gulfstream had 14 dirt races at 1 1/8 miles.

One major change will be cutting back the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 1) from 1 1/8 miles to its pre-2005 distance of 1 1/16 miles. That race will be on Feb. 25 and is a prep for the $1 million Florida Derby on March 31.

“Some trainers who are here have been sending some horses to Tampa Bay Downs and other tracks to race at 1 1/16 miles, and now they won’t need to travel,” Ritvo said.

Gulfstream and its affiliate Palm Meadows training center in Boynton Beach, Fla., are the winter training bases for numerous top trainers and their 3-year-olds.

Street Sense, winner of the 2007 Kentucky Derby, and Super Saver, winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby, are among horses that trained at Palm Meadows or at Gulfstream but did not race at Gulfstream as 3-year-olds.

“I think having a second finish line will be very good for Gulfstream,” said McPeek, who each year has horses at Gulfstream and Palm Meadows. “Keeneland has a second finish line, and it has worked well for the racing and the writing of races.”

McPeek added: “Some trainers don’t like 1 1/8 mile races early in the year for 3-year-olds. Having 1 1/16-mile races at Gulfstream could make a difference in some planning.”