Far be it from me to speculate on the response that the New York Times hoped to elicit from the racing industry with the first part of its series on racing, but it’s tough to resist imagining that the authors and editors are exchanging a couple of circumspect, professional high fives as they witness the parade of press releases from various industry organizations over the last week.
Close to home, to which I returned after two blissful weeks in Florida, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board has been particularly busy, launching three major initiatives since March 22.
That day, the Racing and Wagering Board announced the team that would investigate the spate of fatal injuries over Aqueduct’s inner track during this winter. Drs. Scott Palmer and Mary Scollay, retired jockey Jerry Bailey, and Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association president and CEO Alan Foreman will begin their investigation “promptly,” according to the RWB, and will release their findings to NYRA, to the Racing and Wagering Board, and to the public.
Yesterday, the Racing and Wager Board made two announcements. The first involved two new public databases: one that records details of equine breakdowns and incidents back to 2009, one that lists rules infractions back to 1985. Both are easily searchable using a variety of criteria and make available information not previously easily found.
Neither database is exhaustive. The incident involving Bearpath on August 5, 2012 at Saratoga is classified as a “racing injury” as opposed to an equine death; David Grening reported more than a month later that after rehabilitation attempts failed, Bearpath was euthanized in Kentucky on September 23. I note it not to criticize the database, but to point out at least one of the challenges in keeping accurate records about racetrack injuries: sometimes, the injured horse leaves the track, and then whose responsibility is it to keep track of what happened? The track vet’s? The Racing and Wagering Board? Should the trainer report back to the track at which the incident happened?
The infractions database provides in most cases the type of violation and the number of the rule that was violated. On January 2, 2010, trainer Michael Miceli was fined $100 for employing an unlicensed employee, a violation of rules 4002.1 (b) (H) and 4002.2. In a perfect world, the entry for the violation would include a link to the rules; it takes only a couple of clicks to get to the rules from the Board’s site, but it would be great to be able click right from the entry.
This particular rule is rather broad, leaving visitors to the site unclear as to the exact nature of Miceli’s infraction; we don’t know, for instance, what type of employee was unlicensed. And maybe that doesn’t matter: maybe this is enough information, and maybe privacy concerns forbid disclosing further information.
Not all reports include the rule number. On January 27, 1991, jockey Jorge Chavez was disqualified from first to second for impeding. We know the dates of the suspension, but not the rule that was violated. Again, perhaps inconsequential, and the wealth of easily found and understood information provided in the databases, which have been in development for a long time, and the ease of accessing it are welcome indeed.
But wait…there’s more. Shortly after announcing the launching of these databases yesterday, the Board announced the results of its emergency meeting last week, putting into immediate effect a new rule that would void the claim of any horse that dies during racing or is euthanized on the track. And I confess that this one gives me a little pause.
I see the wisdom of deterring trainers from running unsound horses by voiding claims for horses that break down…but I wonder about the position that such a rule puts the veterinarian in. Of course, the vet’s main and only concern should be the welfare of the animal, but I fear that this rule asks a lot of the vet, requiring him or her to make immediately a decision that he or she might, in other circumstances, defer until more information—results from radiographs, for instances—are available.
It’s not uncommon for horses to be brought back to the barn for further examination before a decision about treatment is made; it’s not uncommon for horses to be euthanized after they’ve left the track. What effect, I wonder, will this new rule have on vets’ decision-making process, consciously or unconsciously?
Perhaps none. Perhaps I’m over-thinking it, and I’m certainly not impugning the integrity of any veterinarian put in this position; I just wonder whether adding a financial element to a medical decision has the potential to have unintended consequences. That said, I can see, the challenges of voiding a claim after the horse has left the track. I appreciate the rule and understand its impetus. I just hope that it works as intended and that it results in fewer horses racing sore, and fewer breakdowns.
Those of who follow New York racing have seen the landscape change, literally and figuratively, since the casino at Aqueduct opened last October, and if the last couple of weeks are any indication, they’re going to keep changing in the near future, at the very least with the publication of the findings from the injury task force. Stay tuned…