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Updated on 03/08/2012 4:53PM
Aqueduct: NYRA officials baffled by rise in breakdowns on inner track
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – New York Racing Association officials said they are frustrated and baffled by the significant number of fatal breakdowns that have occurred this winter at Aqueduct, but maintain that the inner track is safe.
“We’re not going to send jockeys and horses out there if the track wasn’t 100 percent safe,’’ P.J. Campo, NYRA vice president/director of racing, said Thursday in a meeting with New York’s racing reporters at Aqueduct.
There have been 15 fatal breakdowns on the inner track since the meet began last Nov. 30. That does not include one death that was caused by cardiovascular collapse. Hubbard, a 7-year-old gelding, broke down at the five-furlong pole of Wednesday’s eighth race. He was equipped with a splint on his right foreleg and limped into the equine ambulance. He was to be evaluated back at the barn.
The 15 fatalities represents a 50 percent increase over the previous two winter meets covering the same time period. This year’s inner-track meet runs through March 31. The main track opens on April 4.
Glen Kozak, NYRA’s vice president/facilities and racing surfaces, also attended Thursday’s meeting. Kozak, whose work has been highly praised by NYRA horsemen since his arrival in August 2008, said all protocols conducted regarding the maintenance of the inner track are “nothing out of the ordinary” from previous years. He also said numerous tests conducted on the inner track reveal no changes in composition and no deterioration.
“The track has been maintained the way it’s been maintained for the last 3 1/2 years since I’ve been here,” Kozak said.
Both Campo and Kozak said they have not heard complaints from any trainers regarding the inner track, including from trainers who are based at Aqueduct and train horses daily over it.
“It’s very frustrating for us,” Campo said. “You rely on the trainers in the morning that are training here if there is an issue to bring it up – exercise riders or the jocks – and no one has said a word.”
Nine of the 15 breakdowns have come in the lowest level of claiming races NYRA conducts.
“I think you’re at the mercy of the horse population that you have,” Campo said. “Do I think those categories for the winter are out of the ordinary? No. Could we raise the bottom level a little bit over the next year or two? Absolutely.”
In fact, Campo said the bottom claiming levels will go up when Aqueduct’s main track opens in April, again when Belmont opens, and again when Saratoga opens.
Many horsemen rave about the condition of Aqueduct’s main track, but it is probably the most underutilized surface at NYRA. Last fall, there were only 20 racing days on the main. This spring, there will be only 14.
Campo said he and Kozak have discussed the possibility of going to the main track earlier in March or perhaps keep racing over it later in December. Both said it is dependent on weather.
Are there figures available for catastrophic training injuries?
The track is okay -- take note: NYRA has the shortest warmup times for horses in the United States -- if the weather is off slightly, the times are shortened further -- any athlete -- person, horse, kitty cat, cockroach... has greater odds of breaking down when it is not warmed up to the task of its athletic event -- tight, cold muscles, asked to perform at a peak level without warmup can cause injury or even breakdown for any animal period. Amazing there are hundreds of vets working Aqueduct and somehow this info is unavailable to management.
It's economics, most owners of these cheaper horses love their horses and love the game but they're not rich. They try to squeeze the lemon. The onus falls on the track vet. If they aren't walking or warming up right it's there job to scratch them.
This might not have anything to do with the surface of the inner track. Perhaps, because of the increased purse structure, there are just more horses running than previous winters. In addition, bigger fields lead to more traffic issues during the race.
I found it refreshing when NY lowered their minimum claiming price. For years they ran 25 k clm races where it was populated by 14 k clm horses. To quote Larry Bird, "Just because you pay a player a million dollars doesn't make him a Million Dollar Player". And a claiming price is just a stab - if you want it - claim it - if not let it go. I can't imagine that anyone wants to see a breakdown. It was a warm winter - make of it what you will. But a 7.5 clm horse in NY is a 4k horse elsewhere and will breakdown just as quickly. Sad truth.
cheap horse's break down.New York just doesn't want it to happen at the big A.Higher claiming price, sends cheap horses to other tracks!
So if the breakdowns are related to the caliber (health) of the horse and not the track condition which seems to be the case, then what prevents the $7,500 claimer from shipping to another locale where the minimum tag is 5K, or 4K, or less and meet the same fate. If an individual animal is not fit to get over the course I cannot imagine the claiming price printed in the program being much of an influence. Shouldn't the focus be on minimizing breakdowns at all venues? How about running fewer races period. It must be possible to review the data to see which stables are more prone to recent claims suffering catastrophic injuries (particularly with quick turnarounds) and identify patterns if they exist. This data should be public information.
The main track should open the 1st or 2nd week of March, weather permitting of course, like it used to until about 6-7 years ago. With the winter that we had in NY this year, there is no reason why they should be running on the inner now. I say, keep the main track open until Christmas break, run over the Inner from after Christmas through the 1st week of March, then (weather permitting), run on the Main until Belmont re-opens. Also, no reason why perhaps they can't card a turf race or two during March. We've had favorable weather. Take advantage of it.
They don't have the horses to fill races. So you think raising the claiming level is going to change things? You just have $7,500 horses running for $10,000. Hopefully next year they wont have this problem with the purse structure, but the barns all leave for warmer weather next year it's time to consider shutting down for a bit to give everyone a break.
Aqueduct shouldn't be running $7,500 clmg. races. They have more than enough money now to raise the caliber of horses that race there. Some of these cheap claimers are being clained right and left with nobody caring about their problems. They are just going from barn to barn to pick up checks.
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