Task Force on Retired Racehorses & the Governor’s Veto

The news last week that Governor Cuomo had vetoed a bill to extend the life of the Task Force on Retired Racehorses was met with a minor outcry by some in the racing community, cited as a sign of the governor’s opposition to racing and lack of concern about the industry in New York.

The Task Force was formed in 2006, and its purpose, said State Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini, was to identify the problems involved in racehorse retirement and to propose solutions.

Diana Pikulski, executive director of external affairs of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and a Task Force member, added, “The Task Force was legislatively set up, and we had to make a recommendation about the safety of artificial track surfaces in addition to coming up with programs, funding, and recommendations for what to do with retired racehorses.”

In 2008, the Task Force organized an all-day series of panels on synthetic surfaces.

The State Racing and Wagering Board expressed support of the veto, while Pikulski said that it was “irrelevant” to the committee’s work.

According to the Blood-Horse, Governor Cuomo said that his veto comes as part of his pledge to reduce “government bureaucracy.” The article suggested that the group’s failure to issue a report in its six years of existence was a factor in Cuomo’s decision.

Sabini pointed out that the group, formed in 2006, had operated under four governors and a state government that had “undergone a lot of changes,” which he suggested were mitigating factors in the group’s failure to produce a report.

Pikulski offered more practical reasons, tied to the group’s objectives. “We were supposed to write about the effect of track surfaces, and there wasn’t enough information about them and injury rates to make a good recommendation,” she said.

She also pointed out that any funding solutions regarding Thoroughbred retirement through racing is tied directly to video lottery terminal income. That income was an uncertain proposition until last year, as the state delayed for nearly a decade in selecting an operator for a casino that was first approved in 2001.

Lee Park, director of communications for the State Racing and Wagering Board, pointed out that in its six years of existence, the Task Force received a total of about $12,000 of taxpayer money. That money went, according to Pikulski and Park, to cover travel expenses for committee members, webcasts of meetings, and the production of the 2008 panels about synthetic surfaces.

No Task Force members were paid.

Both Pikulski and Sabini said that they expect to submit their report to the governor and the legislature by the end of this year, after which point the Task Force, according to Sabini, will cease to exist, although it’s possible that “something else will come into being” as a result of the report, he said.

“The Task Force didn’t intend to continue beyond this year, given where New York racing is now,” said Pikulski. “We didn’t even know that a bill had been put forward to extend it.”

The Task Force expects to meet at the end of August, at which point a date for completion of the report may be set.

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