09/28/2012 3:42PM

Crist: Even-handed Aqueduct breakdown report disappoints Chicken Littles

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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.

Dogs Up More than 1 year ago
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...
Dogs Up More than 1 year ago
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!
Dave More than 1 year ago
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.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Dave: We had the mildest winter on record that like it or not did play a big factor in the breakdowns if any factor did. We only had 2-3 days ALL WINTER where the temperature was never above freezing and MANY nights this past winter where the temps never went below freezing, nor did we have the kind of bad weather we normally get in a typical winter with one exception. Those factors probably caused the inner track to never get the kind of weather it was designed for, and that probably played a factor. If NYRA had it to do over, they likely would have raced the entire winter on the main track if they knew what the weather would have been this past winter. THAT is what likely caused the breakdowns.
Dogs Up More than 1 year ago
Dave, why does NYRA bother testing 7,000 times with certified labs, and pay about a quarter million dollars for it , and have and adminstrative law process to prosecute offenders formally for horse drug infractions, which brings the tab up to about a million dollars, when you can see all this with your own two eyes? Why are we wasting a million dollars?
Phil Rynn More than 1 year ago
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.
Cris McHenka More than 1 year ago
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.
P knoll More than 1 year ago
Just curious how Dr. Palmer can be objective when his clinic does surgeries on many of these trainers horses?
Kenneth Porteous More than 1 year ago
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?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Dogs Up More than 1 year ago
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/
frank More than 1 year ago
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
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Stonach would be great huh? He has only ruined every track he got his hands on. And on your Coumo for president. There won't be nothing left if there isn't a change this time.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
i used to purchase the form at least 5 to 7 days a week for years,i said used to.nowdays i find myself using the track programme instead and going less and less to the races.the reason is simple i cant support a publication that makes excuses for all thats wrong with racing and promotes the status quo. the form should be first in line sheding light on corruption and cheating in the sport instead they have articles about how great the miracle trainers are.one thing that really gets under my skin this nonsense of trying to say that because testing is not catching the cheats that cheating is not happening,when everybody knows that the testing is a joke "7 106 samples and not one positive for an illegal or prohibited medication" really!!,well then theres no problem.lets just ignore the miraculous feats of rudy rodrigues and r duthrow jr and others.or maybe your testing is just plain inadequate.funny how when a detention barn is set up and some survailance is in place the best horses finish one two like in the belmont,and when its business as usuall willy beaming happens.
timpettine More than 1 year ago
Coming from some front side player who has never been on or under a horse. There are hundreds of variables and program approaches to getting horses to peak performances. I have news for skeptics and cynics like yourself. There is no magic or special narcotic - chemical mixture that a handful of trainers utilize. It sounds conspiratorial which kind of makes you look foolish. You probably believe all jockeys use machines and we never landed on the moon. Never a good idea to base criticisms on strawmen and lack of understanding.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Wow talk about naive? What is this machine that jockeys use? Do you mean a buzzer? They don't need to use buzzers when there are a group of jocks that conspire to rig outcomes for themselves. Nobodies saying it's every race but there are incidents that take place that never get questioned. So when you throw this in along with horses going into races with absolutely no bottom and running through the competition it becomes questionable how. What Steve or other writers at the form or anyone who earns a living though racing will say " It's formful, everyone knew he had a chance he was well bet" While when your looking whether before or after there's really no way you can just pick that one out, so now they're taking all the value out of the race and you know what? It's reminding me of the last days of harness racing on Long Island where the thieves stole every last penny they could before it died. DRF may think they're doing the right thing for the sport by protecting it and the people involved but thinking of the horse players as degenerates is a mistake, we aren't as dumb as they think and when racing start having as much credibility as pro wrestling there's trouble. Nobody likes throwing there money into a rigged sport unless they're the ones rigging it.
timpettine More than 1 year ago
Then I have a suggestione...don't bet. You sound like a disgruntled player who get's upset when they can't cash a ticket. DRF has done nothing but divulge as much information about running lines as possible to the betting public. I take issue with people like yourself and Albany who feel they know what is in the best interest of a sport they have no clear understanding about. I have some insight here. If a horse appears to have no bottom ..... but wins anyway, then guess what? he had a bottom. The data is all there. Am I saying that people don't hold horses? No that does happen, but good luck proving that or finding any empirical data to support it. That's my argument. It's too easy to throw the industry and NYRA under the bus for when things don't look right or your logical winner finishes up the track. As for the doping....some people commenting here must think all trainers have Chemistry degrees. WOW that is just laughable. People will always find ways to give their horses an advantage...I once bought these stupid pieces of metal to go under the horse shoe because I though it would help a particular horse "break over" faster. I have 39 years in racing and I just want the public to receive their information from reliable studies regarding the sport.
Robin Cardoza More than 1 year ago
Well said! I'm amazed at the arm chair trainers and their comments. They sound like disgruntled losers. NYRA isn't perfect, horse racing isn't perfect, and if I stand correctly nothing in this world is. Whiners should shut up and enjoy the sport, suck it up when they lose, or stop gambling all together. I bet horses, have owned race horses, and love to ride them. Statistically we are not going to always win! Get over it! Coming on here and blasting people with conspiracy theories isn't helping anyone. People should play blackjack or poker if they feel shafted by racing. But wait, then it would be the casino's fault when they lost. Or the refs if it was football, or doped up ball players( ah and yes they are just that) !
Standiforx More than 1 year ago
So if you can't support the DRF, why do you waste all of our time with your constant posting to the website? Is your life so miserable that you have to spend so much time commenting on something that you think is crooked? Yes, there are problems in the sport, but your attitude won't change a thing.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
i went from a susseful gambler to someone who still loves the sport and is probably going into the breeding of racehorses.thats why im still interested in the horses.as for the betting part i cant do it as seriously as before,not for finantial reasons but because i dont trust the traines or jockeys.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Sorry to say, if your not using the form, your not serious. I won't even listen to a player who's not using the form. Yes, while learing to read it takes years, it's the bible for serious players.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
i said i used the form for many many years until it became a futile exercise to handicap the races with all the cheating and drugs in the sport.i love the sport but i cant pretend its not happening and just accept it.