Ohio First State to Mandate Use of 'Safety Reins'

The Ohio State Racing Commission approved rules March 16 that require all horses to be equipped with safety reins.

In order to save horsemen the expense of replacing their current reins, the rules will not take effect until July 1, 2008. The period of time will allow jockeys and harness drivers the opportunity to be able to comply with the new rule by replacing existing reins with the new safety reins as their existing equipment wears out, which typically happens within a two-year period.

The safety reins were developed by Art Gray, a former Standardbred trainer and steward, and are patented under the name Sure Lines Inc. Gray, who had witnessed several incidents in which jockeys had lost control of horses’ reins during the race, first thought of the idea for the safety reins while watching live races as a young man.

“(Jockeys losing reins) is not something that happens every day--you might see it three to six times a year--but when it does happen, it’s bad,” Gray said. “(Without them), it’s like driving your car at 35 miles an hour and having the steering wheel come off.”

Gray saw Mike Luzzi break his leg after losing the reins in the opening race of the 2004 Saratoga meet, John Velazquez break a rein while aboard Private Vow in the 2005 Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), and Edgar Prado break a rein aboard Merrill Gold in the 2005 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II).

A safety rein is a rein with a wire or nylon cord stitched into the traditional leather or nylon rein during the manufacturing process, with the cord attached to the bit with a metal clasp. If the leather reins break, jockeys have the nylon to grab onto. Gray said his reins have been certified by a testing laboratory as providing additional strength to conventional reins.

“Ohio is leading the way in taking a proactive step to eliminate this type of dangerous situation,” said Gray, who began developing the safety reins in 1998.

Though most of the responses to the new rule have been positive, Gray said he has received some negative feedback from horsemen concerned about the increased cost of the reins.

“We’re only charging a $5 patent fee, though, and half the money coming in is going to equine-related charities,” said Grey, who predicted the safety reins might at first cost 20 to 25% more than regular reins. “This wasn’t a money-making venture by any means; it was something to try to maximize the safety for jockeys, harness drivers, and horses. Other money (earned from the safety reins profit) will be used for other safety issues down the road.”

Gray said retired jockeys Chris McCarron and Darrell Haire (now a regional manager for the Jockeys’ Guild) played a part in the new rule, as they spoke positively of the reins at a few Association of Racing Commissioners International conferences.

“Chris uses nothing but the safety reins at his North American Racing Academy,” Gray said of McCarron’s new jockey school in Lexington.

Gray said regulatory amendments for safety reins in California and Washington have been introduced, and both states are in line to consider the new rule in the next few months.

Sam Zonak, executive director of the Ohio racing commission, said there are three companies in addition to Gray’s Sure Lines that are developing similar safety reins. “We thought if (the safety reins) could save one life, then it’s a good thing,” Zonak said.

The idea for the reins was first brought up at an Ohio safety committee comprised of racetrack managers, veterinarians, jockeys, and managers of horsemen’s groups. “It was discussed with everybody and got a unanimous recommendation, and went to the commissioners, who approved it,” Zonak said.