Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced his office has received the findings and recommendations of the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety and that the state will undertake an unprecedented series of reforms to promote equine safety at New York racetracks.
The Task Force was appointed at the request of the Governor's office following a spate of deaths at Aqueduct Racetrack during its winter meeting. The Task Force was directed to review the circumstances involving the deaths, analyze the causes, and recommend any necessary action to prevent equine breakdowns at NYRA operated facilities. The Task Force was also charged with examining horse claiming rules, veterinary procedures and drug use in order to promote equine safety.
"New York is committed to placing the health, safety and welfare of the equine athlete as the top priority of horseracing," Governor Cuomo said. "As we bring accountability and responsible business practices to horseracing, these recommendations will be an integral part of a new and improved racing product. I have requested the Racing and Wagering Board to promptly adopt the changes identified by the Task Force to create a safety-conscious environment for racehorses. I sincerely thank the members of the Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety for their important work."
The Governor's actions include recommending a complete overhaul of NYRA's veterinary practices, the creation of an Equine Medical Director position within the state's racing regulatory body, strict prohibitions regarding medications, and new rules for claiming races. Since the Task Force found that the inability of jockeys to communicate their concerns about the health of horses established an unacceptably elevated level of risk, the State will create an anonymous equine safety hotline to enable jockeys to report horse health concerns without fear of retribution.
Task Force Chairman Scott E. Palmer, VMD , said, "The Task Force has spent countless hours analyzing the circumstances of each equine death at Aqueduct. We found multiple factors that created a 'perfect storm' of conditions that caused these tragic breakdowns. We have produced realistic recommendations that will make a lasting difference in racehorse health and safety. We are proud of this report and thank Governor Cuomo for creating this Task Force."
Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John D. Sabini said, "The recommendations put forth by this Task Force are strong and effective responses to the equine fatalities at Aqueduct. The Board stands ready to incorporate the full report into our policies and procedures."
The Task Force found that while there was no single root cause for the Aqueduct fatalities, a combination of factors likely led to the increased rate of horse deaths. These factors included: increased purses in claiming races that incentivized stakeholders to run substandard horses; the use of corticosteroids that may have limited the ability of veterinarians to identify pre-existing conditions that disposed horses to catastrophic injuries; a lack of protocols and inconsistencies in pre-race inspections and veterinary procedures; and mild weather on a track designed for harsher winters.
During its comprehensive examination, the Task Force found that NYRA's organizational veterinary structure was inherently conflicted by reporting to an entity (the Racing Office) whose function is inconsistent with deliberate and careful equine risk management practice. Other structural shortcomings with NYRA's veterinary practice include: a lack of uniform protocols and procedures among track veterinarians, a failure to standardize risk factors to assess racehorses' fitness to run, and no uniformity in veterinary care recordkeeping or proper use of existing veterinary practice management software.
The State Racing and Wagering Board and NYRA will be directed to take these actions:
- Establish an Office of the Equine Medical Director to oversee horse safety
- Create an independent veterinary practice structure within NYRA which will put the health of the horses first and which reporting directly to the chief executive officer of NYRA
- Establish an anonymous reporting mechanism for jockeys to report health or safety violations without fear of reprisal
- Prohibit Clenbuterol within 21 days of a race
- Prohibit Methylprednisolone (DepoMedrol) within 15 days of the date of a race
- Prohibiting all other intra-articular corticosteroids within seven days of a race
- Prohibiting all other systemic corticosteroids within five days of a race
- Requiring trainers to maintain and records of corticosteroid administrations and notify the Stewards in writing within 48 hours of all intra-articular corticosteroid administrations
- Extending the claiming rule that voids claims in the event a claimed horse dies on the race track to make a claim voidable within 1 hour of the conclusion of a race if the horse is vanned off the track
- Amending the economic proportionality claiming rule to allow a purse-to-claim ratio no greater than 1.6-to-1
- Requiring horse claimants be notified within 48 hours of any intra-articular administration of corticosteroids to the claimed horse in the 30 days prior to the race
- Expanding out-of-competition drug testing to include corticosteroids and clenbuterol
- Improving documentation of findings of fatal injuries, including the development of standard protocols for handling of horses sustaining fatal injuries
- Requiring testing laboratory accreditation
- Formalizing necropsy procedures
NYRA will also examine the possibility of installing of a synthetic surface on the inner track at Aqueduct.
The members of the Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety are:
- Chairman: Dr. Scott E. Palmer, the hospital director and staff surgeon at the New Jersey Equine Clinic, has served as a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). He currently serves as Chairman of the AAEP Racing Committee. Palmer has also been twice named "Veterinarian of the Year" by the New Jersey Association of Equine Practitioners.
- Jerry Bailey, a retired Hall of Fame jockey, is a seven-time Eclipse champion jockey who has won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes twice each, as well as five Breeders' Cup Classics. Bailey, who currently works as a television analyst, served as President of the Jockeys' Guild.
- Alan Foreman, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Thoroughbred Horsemen's Associations, Inc., also serves as Vice Chairman of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium and as counsel to many horsemen's and racing industry organizations.
- Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, previously led a pilot racehorse injury reporting project that became the Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database.
The report is available here: www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/Report.pdf
The report's executive summary is available here: www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/ExecutiveSummary.pdf