by Edited Press Release

In the wake of a troubling increase in the number of equine fatalities over the Aqueduct inner dirt track this winter, the New York Racing Association and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association met on Saturday morning to address the issue and distributed separate press releases.

From NYRA:

The New York Racing Association cares deeply about, and takes very seriously, the health and safety of its equine athletes and jockeys at Aqueduct Racetrack. Live racing at Aqueduct operates on track surfaces which are frequently and vigorously inspected by both in-house professionals and outside independent experts, and continue to be found safe.

In addition, starting with the publication of the recommendations of the 2012 New York Task Force report on Racehorse Health and Safety, and continuing through the current winter meet, the New York Racing Association, working with the New York State Gaming Commission and other stakeholders, have implemented a comprehensive set of policies, procedures and best practices to improve equine safety. Following release of the 2012 report, the New York Racing Association:

•Required trainers to maintain records of cortical corticosteroid administrations.

•Limited purse-to-claim ratios to de-incentivize racing horses with potential health problems.

•Created an independent veterinary structure within the New York Racing Association.

•Established a mechanism by which jockeys can anonymously report health or safety violations.

The New York Racing Association has also gone beyond those Task Force recommendations and taken additional measures to ensure the safety of our equine athletes and jockeys, including the following:

•Created a committee of the Board of Directors that specifically addresses issues of equine safety.

•Created the position of Safety Steward, and thereafter filling it with Hugh Gallagher, a nationally recognized expert on equine safety and medication.

•Gave our attending veterinarians full and independent authority to scratch a horse at any time for any reason.

In 2014, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s (NTRA) Safety and Integrity Alliance re-accredited Aqueduct Racetrack. According to Mike Ziegler, Executive Director of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, “All of the New York Racing Association tracks, including Aqueduct, continue to meet or exceed industry standards in the most critical areas pertaining to safety and integrity.” (NTRA Release 3/14/14)

The NTRA review of Aqueduct found that the New York Racing Association utilized best practices identified in virtually every primary area of focus for the Alliance, which includes:

•In the area of injury reporting and prevention, best practices identified included the reporting of injuries and fatalities, pre- and post-race veterinary examinations and the use of an Injury Review Committee.

•In areas intended to create a safer racing environment, best practices cited at Aqueduct included equine ambulance staffing, equipment and protocols; equine ambulance procedures and equipment; substance abuse and addiction treatment, with special commendation given for the establishment of a sober living dormitory, and testing of licensees; racing surface maintenance protocols; and sufficient security and support personnel for paddock safety.

•Regarding the health and safety of jockeys, best practices recognized included sufficient rider medical care and ambulance support; protocols for post parade or starting gate scratches; Jockey Health Information System protocols; and minimum accident medical expense coverage ($1 million) for all jockeys.

•In the area of equine drug testing and penalties, best practices identified included exogenous anabolic steroids regulation and Shockwave therapy regulation and protocols.

•Relating to safety research, best practices were cited for participating in, and funding, a number of research programs geared toward the betterment of racing.

In December 2014, prior to the current Aqueduct meet, the New York Racing Association proactively secured an independent review of Aqueduct’s inner track led by Dr. Michael Peterson, Executive Director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and the Libra Foundation Professor for the College of Engineering at the University of Maine. Dr. Peterson returned January 5 and 6 to further evaluate the track.

“New York has set the bar for the standard of care of racetrack surfaces. What stands out in New York is the record-keeping and the ability to compare measurements from year to year,” said Dr. Peterson. “Dr. Scott Palmer and I sat down and compared everything from last year to this year and asked, ‘Has anything changed for the track?’ With all the extensive measurements – not unlike that of an aircraft checklist – there is nothing that stands out

[in terms of] material, maintenance or weather that would affect the consistency and safety of the surface. This approach reduces the likelihood you will make mistakes and also allows you to go back and make comparisons. We owe it to the fans, the riders, and horsemen to ensure this safety and accountability.”

Throughout the current Aqueduct meet, the New York Racing Association has also continued to closely confer with riders, owners and trainers, in addition to Dr. Scott Palmer, New York State’s Equine Medical Director. The New York Racing Association has also implemented additional steps during the current Aqueduct meet to further enhance equine safety:

•Requested and secured approval from the State of New York to implement two lengthy breaks in Aqueduct’s winter schedule. One break was completed prior to Christmas, with a second is scheduled during March. Both are designed to provide additional rest opportunities for our equine athletes.

•Instituted stringent workout requirements at Aqueduct, mirroring strict requirements previously implemented on the Southern California circuit. These new requirements mandate a minimum number of official, recorded workouts, as well as minimum distances, for various types of horses.

•Implemented stricter processes, procedures and standards at Aqueduct for shockwave therapy, a non-invasive treatment which can speed the healing of orthopedic and soft tissue injuries.

•Conducted a thorough review of racing inventory to eliminate non-competitive horses, nearly 22 to date, from participating in racing.

•Implemented Dr. Palmer’s mandate that necropsies be ordered for all equine fatalities taking place on grounds of Aqueduct, including off-track, non-racing and training.

•With no live racing on Saturday, the New York Racing Association further examined the condition of the racetrack. No issues of concern were identified.

•Met earlier today with representatives of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association to discuss ways to potentially improve safety.

“We had a good meeting today,” stated Rick Violette, Jr., President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “As a result of these discussions and in a proactive fashion, we will ask jockeys and trainers to be more vigilant in reporting any issues or sensitivities which they experience, or see arise. Additionally, stewards will be asked to continue closely monitoring track activities, and we will continue to confer with outside experts to review data, and ensure continued safety for our riders and horses.”

The New York Racing Association has worked, and continues to work with, its Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, its safety steward, its facilities team, its security team specifically trained for equine safety (the horse watch detail), in addition to the Board’s equine safety committee members, the New York State Gaming Commission, and the State of New York’s new Equine Medical Director to improve the health and safety of our tracks.

“The Gaming Commission is extremely concerned with the number of incidents at Aqueduct and is working closely with NYRA to address any issues that arise,” said Dr. Palmer. “We are thoroughly investigating the circumstances of each fatality and will take whatever actions are necessary to protect horses and riders. The role of ensuring equine health and safety is a team effort that continues to evolve, and the Commission and NYRA will continue to work together to meet these challenges.”

These combined and concerted efforts have achieved good results. The facts reflect that the number of catastrophic injuries occurring on New York Racing Association tracks has dropped.

•In 2012, the number of catastrophic injuries (38) was 2.0 per 1,000 starts, slightly above the national average of 1.92 as measured by the Jockey Club.

•In 2013, the number of catastrophic injuries (22) was 1.2 per 1,000 starts, below the national average of 1.9 as measured by the Jockey Club.

•In 2014, the number of catastrophic injuries (24) was 1.36 per 1,000 starts. The national average, as determined by the Jockey Club, will not be available for several more weeks.

The majority of catastrophic injuries occur at Aqueduct Racetrack, where racing takes place during the winter months. In fact, the number of catastrophic injuries at Saratoga and Belmont combined do not equal that of the injuries that occur at Aqueduct. A review of recent catastrophic racing injuries sustained at Aqueduct has revealed the following:

•There appear to be no noticeable trends that correlate to any quantifiable data. For example, there is no direct correlation to jockeys, trainers, race length or other such factors.

•The number of catastrophic injuries occurring during morning training sessions, when there are far more horses participating, is substantially less than those occurring during the races that take place in the afternoon.

One of the northern-most tracks in the United States, Aqueduct conducts racing during the winter and experiences some of the lowest temperatures of the year, often associated with gusty winds and snow. Out of abundance of caution and due to this week’s frigid temperatures and high winds, the New York Racing Association cancelled three days of racing this week, including today. Additionally, and due to escalating wind gusts occurring following the start of the yesterday’s race card, we also elected to cancel the remainder of yesterday’s races at Aqueduct.

According to the Jockey Club, the national foal count has dropped from approximately 36,000 in 2005, to a recent total of approximately 21,000. This decline has been well-documented, and has led other racetrack operators to reduce the number of live racing dates. State law and regulation requires 120 days of racing to be scheduled at Aqueduct during the winter months. While continuing to abide by these rules, the New York Racing Association will further meet with regulators and officials to explore a number of short-term and long-term options, including possible reductions in the number of required race days at Aqueduct.


Members of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Racing Association met Saturday morning to formulate a plan to address the distressing increase in equine fatalities at the current Aqueduct inner track meeting. The productive two-hour meeting included NYTHA President Rick Violette Jr. and Board members Joe Appelbaum, Pat Kelly, Linda Rice, Rick Schosberg and Steve Zorn, and a NYRA management team including Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Martin Panza, Vice President of Facilities and Racing Surfaces Glen Kozak, Chief Examing Veterinarian Dr. Anthony Verderosa, Safety Steward Hugh Gallagher and Steward Braulio Baeza Jr. New York’s Equine Medical Director Dr. Scott