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Crist: Even-handed Aqueduct breakdown report disappoints Chicken Littles
By Steven Crist
The past week was a rare and remarkable one for New York racing in that the positive just may have nosed out the negative to provide a net gain for the sport and its horses.
A week that began with an inane trial balloon from politicians, to bid out the state’s tracks to new owners or managers, ended with the release of a comprehensive report on breakdowns at Aqueduct last winter that did two important things: It made reasonable and forward-looking proposals that deserve implementation, while also discrediting some of the uninformed and hysterical speculation and rhetoric surrounding the sensitive issue of equine welfare.
On Monday, the New York Post’s Albany columnist, Frederick U. Dicker, reported breathlessly that “Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, in a startling move, has decided to ‘privatize’ the running of the famed Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga tracks.” Dicker, who is Cuomo’s authorized biographer, went on to quote unnamed Cuomo administration officials to the effect that the governor had decided that it would be best if entities such as Churchill Downs or Santa Anita (Formula One and Madison Square Garden were also mentioned) would take over the tracks.
The scariest thing about the story is that it was clearly floated by people completely unfamiliar with the recent history of New York racing or the realities of the national racing industry. Churchill Downs Inc. and The Stronach Group, which operates Santa Anita, have no interest in managing the New York tracks and did not bid to own them when the franchise was up for grabs over the past decade. Nor is there any reason to believe that either company would do a better or cheaper job than the highly regulated, not-for-profit New York Racing Association does.
The whole proposition was ludicrous and within days the governor’s men were backing off it as a done deal or as anything more than something that the new NYRA board might consider among many options.
Friday’s release of the Aqueduct breakdown report was organized and presented by the governor’s office, but had to disappoint those who had hoped for a scathing indictment of NYRA or the racing industry for the spike in racing fatalities last winter. The report made 36 recommendations in a broad range of areas, ranging from increasing the withdrawal times for some corticosteroids; structural reorganization of the relationship between racing offices and veterinarians; and increased oversight by independent medical regulators. The authors of the report, however, repeatedly stressed that the shortcomings they found were endemic to racing nationwide and not to New York in particular, and that the structural flaws had been in place for decades and were not the result of recent management decisions.
The authors – three of whom (Alan Foreman, Dr. Scott Palmer, and Dr. Mary Scollay) spoke at length during the press conference – also debunked many of the theories that have been advanced about the breakdowns, particularly by those who believe that various widely accepted therapeutic medications are at the heart of the problem.
Foreman specifically noted that there was no correlation between the the use of phenylbutazone or furosemide (Salix) and the breakdowns, and he rejected the perception that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are inherently dangerous: “These are not, as have been referred to by others, ‘powerful painkillers,’ ” a reference to The New York Times’s boilerplate language for them.
He also noted that of 7,106 samples tested from horses competing last winter during the period of increased breakdowns, there was not a single positive for an illegal or prohibited medication, and only five positives for overages of therapeutic drugs.
The press conference was not entirely free of politics. Cuomo’s new lead spokesman on racing, a state operations official named Howard Glaser, twice attempted to portray the governor’s imminent dismantling of the State Racing and Wagering Board, to be folded into a larger gambling regulation body that will also oversee casinos and lotteries, as a part of the solution. No one can figure out how that move can possibly help racing or the increased oversight the report recommends, and the report’s authors were silent on that topic.
Nobody is going to be entirely pleased with the report: the state did not get its desired red meat on NYRA’s supposed transgressions; NYRA may find some of the recommendations overly critical; and some horsemen will grumble about increased record-keeping and intrusiveness. That’s a pretty good sign that the report was indeed independent of undue political influence and probably makes sense.
That’s what can happen when you give well-informed experts, rather than power brokers and zealots, the time and resources to investigate fully and fairly and make constructive decisions based on facts and science. It might even be the way to run racing going forward.
Why does NYRA bother testing 7,000 times with certified labs, and pay about a quarter million dollars for it , and have an adminstrative law process Stewards/State Police, etc to prosecute offenders formally for horse drug infractions, which brings the tab up to millions of dollars, when some here can see infractions and all this with their own two eyes? Why are we wasting millions of dollars, and getting the state involved and reports an fixes when the player can tell you exactly why his horse didn't finish where it was suppose to or got beat by another who was not suppose to...
Wonder how many here have a preventative and catastrophic health benefit program for themselves and/or their loved ones for which they pay or contribute through employment. Pay out of their pocket with money they have earned while earning an income from their personal work. Wonder how many will be forced to take on a medical plan or be fined in the future under proposed plan? Also, for conspiracy advocates who shoot from the hip, yes, this game is really out to get you personally!
So essentially after "well-informed experts" reviewed an unfathomable 21 breakdowns in one meet, they concluded it was just bad luck and could have happened anywhere? "Of 7,106 samples tested from horses competing last winter during the period of increased breakdowns, there was not a single positive for an illegal or prohibited medication, and only five positives for overages of therapeutic drugs." Does anyone actually believe none of the trainers are using illegal drugs? The ridiculous, unexplainable form reversals in the winter at Aqueduct are a yearly occurrence. This "even-handed" report is an utter joke. If you're testing 7,000 times and can't find one positive for an illegal drug, then that seems like a problem based on what anyone with two eyes can see.
Im disappointed in Mr. Crist's comments. If you've been around horses long enough, and you understand that medicine is there to "help them along", and not just as a therapeutic/recovery elixir, then you know that the meds keep them in the gate, and keep them running -- until they break down, and are of no use to anyone. I spent too many weekday nights at Charles Town or Penn National or Mountaineer to think otherwise. We push them til they have nothing left to give...and most would give out sooner if the meds weren't there to help them along. That's a sad fact of North American Racing, but it's a fact nonetheless. Yes, we can can restrict meds up to a certain point before a race, but every trainer is pushing the envelop and riding that fine line between have a "clean" and "racing sound" horse, and one that "pops positive" because they cross the line. And if you are "horseman" enough to try to run a horse without meds, most owners dont want to be anywhere near you, and with a horse of decent talent every trainer is salivating at the thought of taking the horse from you to really "improve" with the "right care".....so, its hard to read an article like this, from someone who should know better...yea, we are hastening the end of these animals for the almighty dollar. Im not a purist -- there is a place for meds in horse racing...NYRA held the line for YEARS, while all the other tracks gave in to pressure from horsemen's groups...and finally, with a shortage of horses finally gave in to many medical practices that were practiced heretofore on the other side of the Hudson. Anyone who denies that present drug policies are KILLING North American Racing, slowly but surely, is part of the problem. Wish that New York had held the line years ago. Wasn't perfect, but it was right.
Dr. Palmer is a wonderful person to have on a board such as this and I am sure the even handedness of the reports speak volumes of the board members.
Anon- Willy Beamin was not a very sudden unexplained form reversal? I don't know of a horse in the world that was claimed in April for 25k and then wins a Grade 1 four months later. Does that sound EXPLAINABLE??? And yes he was claimed at AQUEDUCT a NYRA track.
Steven Crist commenting on the "safety" going on at NYRA and his continued, unabated use of drugs just shows what is wrong with racing. But to be fair, he did publish some negative comments. I will commend him for that; even though I disagree with most he says. One question Steve: Why are horses getting about half as many starts after the introduction of Lasix (Salix) (Furhomoside) (he loves to put these three in paranthasese) as opposed to before?
There are very few sudden, unexplainable form reversals at NYRA tracks. The races at NYRA tracks are the most predictable in the country. I read all the other comments before making this post. It seams some of the most devoted fans say the worst about things about the sport. I'll take Mr Crist's view of the report. I would add only that NYRA should not pay out purse money beyond the 4th finish positioin for any race. This would cut down questionable entries. It would also give a little more confidance to handicappers. RD
Here is a complete copy of the report. Available at no charge to anyone on the planet with access to Internet connection. Nothing possible to hide by NYRA. (Internet/computer time is free at Libraries, and free connection is available 'at McDonald's, and elsewhere). Most have it on their phones/homes. Hard copies or on file available for reading are available. Accordingly, NYRA would not have any motive to sacrifice 6 million dollars in handle Friday, regarding an alterior motive for cancellation due to the date of the report's issuance. Saturday's Main Event is reason enough. Since the beginning of communication, wo/man recorded and reported the news, events following a discovery of the facts. Accordingly, one must see/read the discovery in a report before one can comment on the information. This is also what is taught in US accredited journalism universities and law schools. If one does think that contemporary labs with PhDs in Analytical Chemistry and state-of-the art digitized instrumentation and equipment are incompetent in their findings, Bingo. Play it. This is not to say that those that are violators should not be barred from racing to the fullest extent, and criminal prosecution. If mother nature provided the legal or illegal substance: organic, inorganic, even organometallic, these machines can tell you exactly what it is. This stuff is not looked at under a microscope slide taken from a petri dish. http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/158165/watch-livecast-of-aqueduct-breakdown-report-release/
I have derived a mathematical formula for the future of racing in NYS: Casino Gambling = money to save this game / only when the right people are in place * (NYRA out + deal makers in) + Cuomo for president = money fountain in place * 100% Everything else is theater
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