Updated on 03/08/2012 4:53PM

Aqueduct: NYRA officials baffled by rise in breakdowns on inner track

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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.