KY May Move to License Training Centers

The possible regulation of training centers in Kentucky was the focal point of discussion Dec. 1 during a meeting of the safety and welfare committee of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

While training centers are subject to an on-site visit by a HKRC staff member before being approved to have workouts from their facilities officially recorded and accepted for publication, committee members were told that process mainly focuses on the track surface, condition of the starting gate, and other areas related to racing safety. Otherwise, training centers are not licensed and thus are not subject to the more rigorous standards that licensed racetracks must meet.

The question of licensing training centers arose as a result of a Nov. 20 fire at Riverside Downs in Henderson, Ky., in which 27 horses died. The fire at the facility that previously conducted live Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing before being converted into a training center was the fourth at Riverside Downs in the last five years.

A fire last January killed six horses and caused $70,000 in damage to one of the barns. In December 2003, 22 horses died from a fire that swept through a barn. Both of those fires were thought to be electrical in nature.

The fourth fire, which occurred in November 2005, burned the harness track’s old grandstand. Four people were charged with arson. Due to the intenseness of the blaze, the fire marshal’s office was unable to determine the exact cause of the most recent fire, but ruled that it was not suspicious in nature.

Committee chair Betsy Lavin said that if horses from public training centers are allowed to race at the state’s licensed racetracks, consideration should be given to similar licensing and regulation of training centers. “I think we need to have minimum standards for training centers,” she said.

Committee member Ned Bonnie said fire prevention at training centers and other racing facilities should be a concern for the commission “if we are going to run the racing commission at a high level.”

The subject of licensing training centers was one of several safety-related topics discussed during the meeting. There also was considerable discussion about amending and enforcing regulations of safety vests worn by jockeys and other licensed personnel at the state’s racetracks.

Bonnie noted that current rules of racing in Kentucky call for jockeys to wear vests that meet standards set by an accreditation body, but that the rule is not being enforced. ”Nobody is wearing a safety vest that complies with the rule today,” said Bonnie, who noted the lack of enforcement subjects the commission to legal liability in the event of an injury related to the type vest being worn by a jockey.

Jeff Johnston, a regional manager for the Jockeys’ Guild, has reviewed the different types of vests available and their various levels of protection. He said there are two major accreditation entities – one in the United States and one in Great Britain – that test and approve the vests, based on standardized specifications.

Johnston said one reason for lack of compliance by jockeys is that some vests that meet the standards are too heavy and/or provide less flexiblity for the rider in the case of an accident. Committee members agreed to continue working toward a proposed rule to be passed along to the KHRC for regulating vests.

In the committee’s only official action Dec. 1, it approved and sent to the full commission proposed changes in the riding crops used by riders in competition. The crops (formerly referred to as whips) are considered more humane because they are three inches shorter than the conventional piece of equipment and have a longer tap or tip. The new crops have been used in a limited number of races at Kentucky’s tracks to gauge their effectiveness.

Lavin and KHRC legal counsel John Forgy will work on the proposed Kentucky rule to incorporate aspects of the proposed crop rule from the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The new regulation, which also addresses instances in which they can be used, stipulates that riding crops must comply with the following:

(A)      Maximum weight of 8 oz.

B)      Maximum length, including flap, of 30 inches.

(C)      Minimum diameter of the shaft of 0.5 inch.

(b)      The only additional feature that may be attached to the riding crop is a flap, which must fall within the specifications below:

(A)      A maximum length of flap from the end of the shaft of 1/2 inch ;

(B)      A maximum width of the flap of 1.6 inches, with a minimum width of 0.8 inch;

(C)      The flap from the end of the shaft must not contain any reinforcements of additions;

(D)     There shall be no binding within 7 inches of the end of the flap;

(E)      The contact area of the shaft must be smooth, with no protrusion or raised surface, and covered by shock absorbing material throughout its circumference;

(F)      The flap must have similar shock absorbing characteristics to that of the contact area.

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