June 8, 2023
Albany, NY

Governor Hochul Announces Efforts to Protect Racehorses as Effects of Canadian Wildfires Continue to Impact New York State

Governor Hochul Announces Efforts to Protect Racehorses as Effects of Canadian Wildfires Continue to Impact New York State

New Air Quality Safety Protocols Are Effective Immediately for All Horse Racing in New York

Governor Kathy Hochul today announced enhanced measures to protect horses at New York State racetracks as smoke and haze from ongoing Canadian wildfires continue to impact air quality throughout the state.

"As New Yorkers continue to experience unhealthy air quality as a result of Canadian wildfires, we must all work to ensure that animals - including these peak-performance equine athletes — are protected," Governor Hochul said. "The measures being implemented at tracks across New York State are effective steps to keep all those who participate in the sport safe now and into the future."

Governor Hochul yesterday encouraged New Yorkers to postpone any outdoor activities in impacted regions until conditions improve. Accordingly, the New York State Gaming Commission directed all tracks to stop all racing, training and workouts until further notice. The Gaming Commission continues to monitor air quality and rely on guidance from veterinary expertise to ensure any decision to resume racing is based solely in the best interest of the horse population.

The Gaming Commission has established measures tied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air quality index (AQI). The AQI includes a range of index values. The higher the AQI value, the greater the health concern:

  • If the AQI exceeds 200 at a specific facility, no racing or training may be conducted at that track.
  • If the AQI is between 150 and 200 at a specific facility, only those horses that pass an additional pre-race respiratory veterinary examination will be permitted to race.

Gaming Commission Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer, VMD, ABVP, is directing all Thoroughbred and Standardbred racetracks in the State to implement additional protocols based upon the track's AQI, which considers the amount of particle pollution, ground-level ozone, and toxic gases (carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide) in the air. The AQI varies from location to location and changes throughout the day.

As with humans, particulates in the atmosphere can build up in horse respiratory systems causing serious health problems, including eye and respiratory tract irritation. Poor air quality can irritate pre-existing conditions, including recurrent airway obstruction (heaves), as well as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). High concentrations of smoke and particulates can cause persistent cough, nasal discharge, wheezing, an increased effort to breathe and altering of the immune system.

All parties interacting with horses are urged to review veterinary guidelines for smoke/extreme weather:

Effective immediately:

While the AQI is under 150:

  • Horsepersons should monitor their horses for signs of respiratory inflammation and contact their attending veterinarian to evaluate horses exhibiting coughing, respiratory distress, nasal discharge, or fever.
  • It is otherwise safe to exercise or race horses at these AQI levels.

Once the AQI reaches 150:

  • The chief veterinarian of the track at which training or racing is conducted must inform the stewards or presiding judges and track management of an elevated AQI.
  • The chief veterinarian, stewards or presiding judges, horsepersons, jockeys, drivers, outriders, and racetrack management must collectively determine whether to cancel racing.
  • The steward or presiding judge and equine medical director retains authority to unilaterally intervene, as they determine circumstances warrant.

If the AQI is between 151 and 200:

  • No horse will be allowed to workout or race unless their attending veterinarian certifies that the horse will not be adversely affected by the elevated AQI.
  • If an entered horse evidenced a respiratory issue, the horse must be declared unfit and scratched without penalty.
  • Under present practice, the horse would be placed on the Veterinarian's List when scratched.
  • Horses declared fit to race must be closely scrutinized before and after racing to ensure that they are not experiencing clinical signs of respiratory distress.
  • Pre-race examinations of association veterinarians should include auscultation of the lungs and airways.

If the AQI reaches 201: No racing or training may be conducted.

U.S. Air Quality Index



Level of Concern

Values of Index

Description of Air Quality




Air pollution poses little or no risk.




Air quality is acceptable. Some may be at risk.


Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups


Sensitive people may experience health effects. The general public is less likely to be affected.




Some members of the general public may experience health effects: members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.


Very Unhealthy


Health Alert: The risk for health effects is increased for everyone.



301 and higher

Health warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected.

Contact the Governor’s Press Office

Contact us by phone:

Albany: (518) 474 - 8418
New York City: (212) 681 - 4640


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