03/16/2012 5:01PM

Aqueduct: NYRA to adjust bottom claim level, purses following breakdowns

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – As the New York Racing Association embarks on a comprehensive investigation into the rash of breakdowns that have occurred at Aqueduct this winter, the head of the association said Friday that purses will be cut for lower-level claiming races beginning April 4.

Since the inner track opened Nov. 30, 17 fatalities have occurred over the surface, eight since Feb. 25. Thirteen of those fatalities have occurred in races where the horses were running for a claiming price of $15,000 or less, essentially the cheapest horses on the grounds.

“I think it’s logical to look at the purse levels in that general area, which we’re in the process of doing right now,” NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward said Friday in his office during a lengthy meeting with New York’s racing reporters.

Hayward said he and P.J. Campo, NYRA vice president/director of racing, have yet to finalize the amount of the reduction, but said it is likely that claiming races in which horses are being offered for $20,000 or less “will get an adjustment and there will be money put back at the top. . . . The goal should be to have a sustainable mid- and upper-level claiming [product]. It’s better for the bettors, it’s better for the horsemen.”

Also, beginning April 4, the bottom claiming level will be raised from $7,500 to $10,000. At Belmont, which opens April 27, the bottom will likely rise to $12,500.

With an infusion of cash from the Resorts World Casino that opened at Aqueduct on Oct. 28, NYRA last fall announced an across-the-board purse increase, upping purses from $8,000 to $10,000 per race, which took effect Dec 28.

That resulted in horses running for a $7,500 tag – the bottom level available – vying for purses from $27,000 to $30,000.

The higher purses led to an explosion of activity at the claiming box. From Nov. 30 through Thursday, 462 horses were claimed for $7.8 million.

With the higher purses for cheaper horses, it is believed that horsemen became more aggressive in dropping their horses in class, knowing they could afford to run a horse for less than they claimed it for while still making money.

David Jacobson, who claimed 43 horses at the meet and who is the leading trainer at this meet with 39 wins, said he simply places horses where they can be competitive.

“I’m going to run horses where I think they should be able to win,” Jacobson said. “These purses are great for the game.”

Jacobson said the increased purses brought more people into the game and said his stable increased in size from 28 to 30 horses last year to 48 to 50 this winter.

Jacobson said reducing purses will “discourage people from getting in the game.”

In five of the fatalities, the horse was claimed. Under New York’s rules, there are no refunds. At least one trainer, Dominic Galluscio, believes that rule should be changed.

“If a horse is claimed and it broke down, the claim should be voided,” said Galluscio, who also has been active at the claim box. “Not to protect my money – we’re big boys that are claiming – but to stop the people from running horses for the sole purpose of getting rid of them so they don’t have to rehabilitate them.”

In some states, like California, a claim is voided if the horse has to be euthanized on the track. Jacobson, who on Jan. 14 claimed Scorper for $7,500 out of a race in which that gelding suffered a fatal breakdown on the track, disagrees with the California rule.

“That’s part of the game,” Jacobson said. “I don’t believe in that.”

In light of the breakdowns, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday sent Hayward a letter advising NYRA to investigate the cause of the breakdowns and try to come up with some solutions to prevent future fatalities.

Hayward said NYRA is in the process of finding people to conduct a review of existing policies. He said he hopes to have some people in place by next week.

“If this is going to be any good and meaningful, they should come in and look at everything and they should start next week,” Hayward said. “That’s what we’re hopeful we can do. I think this is an opportunity to look at a number of things.”

As an example, Hayward said that Campo would like the racing office to be able to access complete medical records of horses.

“If a horse gets claimed three different times, we don’t know how a horse was treated going back,” Hayward said.

Hayward also mentioned the possibility of making the vet list public, something that is done in other jurisdictions, but not New York.

“I got a lot of things I’d like them to address that are directly relevant to the health and well being of the horse and the integrity of the bettor,” Hayward said.

One area that does not seem to be of concern is the inner track itself. No trainers or jockeys have complained about the track being unsafe.

However, NYRA has decided to move racing to the main track beginning Wednesday, two weeks earlier than scheduled.

Coincidentally, NYRA and the union that represents track maintenance workers, are in a contract dispute. The union maintains NYRA is attempting to reduce their salaries by 40 percent and cut back on the number of hours of track maintenance.

Hayward said that the amount of overtime NYRA pays has resulted in 18 track maintenance workers making at least $100,000.

gogofan1 More than 1 year ago
Dear Mr. Grening, Despite what Mr. Jacobson said I agree with California's rule regarding horses that were claimed, but euthanized on track that claim is then voided. In fact I personally believe that the NYRA tracks should bring that rule to their tracks. Sincerely, Kyle Stasierowski 27-year-old loyal TVG viewer, HRTV Live Feed viewer, and TVG Community member from Alden, New York
Arlene Factor More than 1 year ago
how is dutrow still training horses?? i thought he got 10 years he's sure making nyra look impotent/stupid! what is norm oxyson itpp myo-inositol trispirophosphate???
Iris Roberts More than 1 year ago
Shut down the winter meet until they resolve the issues. Why are they still running while NYRA figures out how to stop putting the horses and their jockeys in danger? Every one of those lives is precious. If there's am E-coli outbreak, the FDA doesn't continue to sell the contaminated food while they look for the source. It's Insane. I won't bet or watch at New York tracks until it stops. Period.
Mark Lipsky More than 1 year ago
At least they found a nice home for Hey Elvis as he was adopted by The Second Race horse retirement organization. That horse made me quite a tidy sum and its nice to know he survived after breaking down in that 10K race.
Mark Lipsky More than 1 year ago
One of the most shady trainer/owner outfits anywhere in the country is Steve Sherman of Northern California (Golden Gate) with an assist from Doug O'Neill and Westside Rentals. What they did with the horse HEY ELVIS was CRIMINAL. Mr. Sherman/Mr. O'Neill: Perhaps you should have made even the smallest attempt to hide the fact you were racing what YOU KNEW was an unfit racehorse. Running in that 10K race on the turf instead of the 16K race on the turf the very next day made it completely obvious to anyone what you were trying to do (unloading an unfit racehorse while robbing the betting public).
robdybas More than 1 year ago
Why would any self-respecting, successful handicapper bet Aqueduct anyway? Favorites win approximately 44% of the time; in short fields. Sure Aqu has giant purses, but it does not benefit the bettor in the least.
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
Until there is a commissioner that is responsible for thoroughbred horse operations through and through, the shadiness will never cease. There is NO WAY that a sport where animals are challenged with their lives should not have a strict governing authority. Set the industry in such a way that trainers and jockeys are HORRIFIED of the possibility of a horse breaking down on their watch. You take away their Escalades and houses in the Hamptons because they can no longer afford them and I promise you every horse will cross that finish line.
mrnickyb More than 1 year ago
How about requiring at least 7 days before a horse can run again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In light of 'Luck' this industry has got big problems.
GJGK1 More than 1 year ago
You really want to protect the horse and jockeys? The stop the vets from giving drugs and injecting!