In the wake of the fatal breakdown of the filly Eight Belles in the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), The Jockey Club has commissioned a seven-member Thoroughbred Safety Committee, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association board of directors has scheduled a special meeting May 9 to discuss a course of action.
Jockey Club chairman Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps said May 8 the new committee would be asked to review every facet of equine health, including breeding practices, medication, the rules of racing and track surfaces, and to recommend actions to be taken by the industry to improve the health and safety of Thoroughbreds.
Recommendations that have come from the two Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse summits will serve as starting points for the committee. Three of the seven members of the newly formed committee were participants in both summits.
When contacted May 8, Bob Curran, vice president of corporate communications for The Jockey Club, acknowledged the committee was formed in response to the breakdown and subsequent euthanization of Eight Belles in her gallop-out after the Derby, in which she finished second. The incident generated a barrage of attention from the national media and animal-rights groups.
“The committee is going to meet for the first time (May 14),” Curran said. “After the meeting, it will provide a summary of its goals and a timeline (for action).”
The seven members of the committee are Stuart Janney III, who will serve as chairman; John Barr; James G. “Jimmy” Bell; Dr. Larry Bramlage; Donald Dizney, Dell Hancock; and Dr. Hiram Polk Jr. Each is a member of The Jockey Club.
“All seven of these individuals have dedicated a major part of their lives to Thoroughbred breeding and racing, and have shown a consistent and unwavering concern for the welfare of Thoroughbreds,” Phipps said in a statement. “We will reach out to involve others in the industry, and we will do everything in our power to encourage changes that will benefit the breed in any way. We will do this in a timely manner.”
Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications for the NTRA, said the organization supports The Jockey Club initiative. He said the special NTRA board meeting is being held to discuss the fallout from the death of Eight Belles on horse racing’s biggest stage, but further details aren't yet available.
“We’ll be discussing everything (related to the situation),” Chamblin said of the meeting agenda.
On May 8, NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldop issued the following statement on the most recent developments: "The Thoroughbred Safety Committee is a major step that will provide the examination of the horse welfare and safety issues so badly needed in the wake of recent catastrophic injuries. The NTRA supports the committee’s work and plans to work closely with it to build support for the committee’s recommendations with the many constituencies we represent.
"At the same time, we will redouble our efforts to promote Thoroughbred racing to core and target fans as the safe, responsible sport that it is. Now more than ever, no practice, policy, or tradition is more important than those that best protect and promote the health of the Thoroughbred athlete."
Said Breeders' Cup president and CEO Greg Avioli: “We applaud the efforts of The Jockey Club in its formation of the Thoroughbred Safety Committee, and pledge the full support of the Breeders’ Cup to the committee in its efforts to address the critically important equine health issues.”
The horseracing industry is now gearing up for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the May 17 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course. One animal-rights group--People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals--said it plans to hold demonstrations in conjunction with the Preakness and the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in New York.