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Updated on 05/30/2012 4:34PM
Belmont Stakes 2012: Barn area security tightened
By Matt Hegarty
Horses in the Belmont Stakes on June 9 will be subjected to strict security and drug-testing protocols under a series of requirements announced on Wednesday by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.
The horses will be required to enter a security barn at Belmont Park by noon on Wednesday, June 6, which will be guarded 24 hours a day by board investigators and private security personnel. Access to the barn will be limited to the horses' trainers, assistant trainers, grooms, hotwalkers, veterinarians, and owners, and anyone entering the barn will need to sign log sheets indicating the time and the reason of their visit. The visitors will be subject to "administrative searches and checks of all equipment, feed, hay, bales, etc.," the board said.
When the horses arrive at the barn, investigators will draw blood from them to test for illegal substances, the board said. Treatments of the horses will be closely monitored, the board said, with veterinary visits accompanied by an escort.
On June 6 and June 7, vets will be required "to provide written notice of intended treatment" and those treatments will be monitored by security personnel. On June 8, veterinarians will not be allowed to administer treatments "without first making an appointment with [board] investigators," the board said, and on June 9, "treatment will only be permitted for emergency or by agreements with the stewards."
The measures come at a time of urelenting attacks on the perceived integrity of racing by both critics of the sport and state officials. The New York Racing Association, which operates Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga, has come under scrutiny after a recent series of deaths at Aqueduct's winter meeting and an investigation into the asssociation's takeout rates of some exotic bets in 2010 and 2011. The scrutiny has put NYRA's franchise to operate the tracks in jeopardy, and last week NYRA reached an agreement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that will require the association to dissolve its board, with the majority of the new appointments given to Cuomo and the state legislature.
In part, critics of the sport have been emboldened by the presence in the Belmont Stakes of Doug O'Neill, the California-based trainer of I'll Have Another, the horse who has already won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes and is trying to become the first horse in 34 years to win the Triple Crown.
O'Neill has been penalized four times in his career for having horses under his care test positive for elevated levels of total carbon dioxide, which can indicate that a horse was administered substances -- sometimes referred to as a milkshake -- intended to stave off fatigue. Last week, O'Neill, who has denied ever administering a milkshake to one of his horses, was suspended for 45 days by the California Horse Racing Board for a 2010 positive test of elevated total carbon dioxide. The suspension is not scheduled to start until July. The ruling concluded that no milkshake had been given because of the small test overage but that a suspension was required by the absolute insurer rule, which holds a trainer responsible for the condition of his horses regardless of fault or intent.
O'Neill said on Wednesday that "he has no problem" with the security measures for the Belmont Stakes. I'll Have Another has been at Belmont since May 20, the day after the Preakness. O'Neill arrived late last week.
"We have so much confidence in the horse that even though it's a distraction to move three days out, it's a great way to show people who love the game that all the horses are housed together in the same locker room," O'Neill said.
Last week, stewards at Belmont informed O'Neill that I'll Have Another will be prohibited from using a nasal strip in the race. I'll Have Another wore the nasal strip during the Derby and Preakness.
So far, nine of the 12 horses who are expected to run in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes are already on the grounds. One of the exceptions is Union Rags, the expected second or third choice, who is at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland with his trainer, Michael Matz.
Matz said on Wednesday that he had expected to ship Union Rags to Belmont next Wednesday or Thursday.
"I guess we're coming Wednesday," Matz said.
Matz said that he had last discussed his schedule with the Belmont stewards on Saturday and that he had not heard of the new protocols until a reporter informed him on Wednesday.
"Jesus, do they make this stuff up as they go along?" Matz said.
The security barn established for the Belmont Stakes is similar in concept to a detention barn that NYRA had in place for five years beginning in 2005.
NYRA abandoned the policy in 2010 after complaints from horsemen about being isolated from their horses and because of the cost of the barn's operation, which was said to be $1.2 million a year. NYRA was the only racing operation in the country that used such a barn.
Lee Park, a spokesman for the state racing board, said Wednesday that all of the protocols relating to the Belmont security barn will begin at noon on June 6. If, however, a trainer wanted to move his horse to the stall in the barn before June 6 to acclimate the horse to the new environment, that may be possible.
"That would have to be addressed by NYRA and the stewards," Park said.
-- additional reporting by Jay Privman
Wake up people IHA was not allowed to wear the strip in the Hopeful last summer at Saratoga.........
Leah...of course the bettor should come first...95% of all racing revenue comes from the bettor.....da.....
Maybe all the trainers should get together to form an union and boycott this race if it really does more harm than good? NYRA is apparently showing no respect for the trainers.
Dear Mr. Park, My name is Leah Demeter and I used to ride hunters and jumpers at a stable near the Santa Anita race track with TVG's Christina Olivares and the daughters of Bill Shoemaker and Gary Stevens. I am writing this open letter as a request for a consideration that will benefit both the bettors and the training teams. Even though I speak from a different discipline, I understand the significant value that a trainer has on a horse. Trainers work with the horses on a daily basis and understand their horses' routine and needs better than anyone else. It is understandable that you are feeling the pressure with the media backlash over the alleged milkshaking incident that happened two years ago, but I ask you that you remember what is most important here: all of the horses, the training teams and the sport. Please consider consulting with the trainers before enforcing such protocols. I ask that you be flexible in your ruling and be open to changes. Will you consider an amendment that will allow the trainers keep their horses' routine? A Daily Report Form commentor suggested this: "If this isn't going to be protocol across the board and affects only the Belmont Stakes horses, then why not assign 3rd party security to each horse and oversee practices in their own stall 24/7? The bettors would feel better and the horses wouldn't have to get out of their regular routine." I believe this is a good suggestion because sticking to routine will ensure that the horses will be running at their best and we'll no doubt see an exciting and memorable Triple Crown race. Thank you for your time and consideration, Leah Demeter
It's understandable that NYRA is feeling the pressure with the media backlash over the alleged milkshaking incident that happened 2 years ago. Even though this is a big headache and that NYRA should have planned better, Dough O'Neill is handling all these changes really well, so that impresses me and tells me that he has nothing to hide. And as for Matz, he has the right to feel annoyed because NYRA did not notify the trainers before releasing it to the public. That suggests that they are more concerned about appeasing the bettors rather than what is best for the horses, the training team and the sport.
I think this might help IHA- he has proven he is a cool customer both before and during races. Union Rags? Now that's a different story! Matz is just loading up more excuses to use.
If this isn't going to be protocol across the board and effects only the Belmont Stakes horses, then why not assign 3rd party security to each horse and oversee practices in their own stall 24/7? The bettors would feel better and the horses wouldn't have to get out of their regular routine.
Attention Tampa Bay Downs officials---did you read this? Spend the money next meet and subject Jamie Ness to this type of security and scrutiny and maybe, just maybe you will catch him and save your racing product.
George Orwell "1984"
Why dont' they just do random? That's fair for everyone and if you get caught drugging you loose your license. That simple. Im all for any legal drugs that help the horse too as long as it is legal, safe, and studied.
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