02/27/2013 5:53PM

Equine Safety Committee recommends NYRA consider medication house rules

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NEW YORK – The possibility of the New York Racing Association instituting house rules on repeat violators and the feasibility of installing a synthetic surface at two of NYRA’s three tracks were among the significant topics discussed Wednesday at NYRA’s Equine Safety Committee meeting in midtown Manhattan.

Anthony Bonomo, a horse owner and chairman of the safety committee, said that he has asked Dr. Scott Palmer, a member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety, to seek a meeting between the task force, the state, and the Equine Safety Committee, to discuss possibly developing enforceable penalties for horsemen who continually have medication positives.

“Allowing repeat offenders to continue, to me is not good. We don’t do it anywhere else,” Bonomo, whose horses include Gotham contender Escapefromreality, said after the meeting. “If you’re a drunk driver and you get caught, don’t they take your license away?

“We need to effectively develop some measures to give us the power to just police ourselves,” Bonomo added.

Bonomo said one possible way of doing it is to come up with “trace levels” of permissible medications.

Part of the reason to adopt house rules, Bonomo said, is because of the perception that NYRA doesn’t do anything when a medication positive is revealed. While NYRA pulls the blood and urine samples, it is the state that conducts the tests and metes out the penalties. In many cases, it takes several months for those penalties to be handed out. Richard Dutrow Jr. trained under a stay for 15 months after the state issued him a 10-year suspension.

“The fight to deny a license is not within our purview, it’s the state’s,” Bonomo said during the open meeting. “We at NYRA do have certain things we can do, which is come up with a code of house rules. When we’re told of a violation we can do certain things. It’s our obligation to do certain things.”

Steve Duncker, a former NYRA chairman who attended the meeting, and trainer Rick Violette, a member of the safety committee, both said that NYRA needs to be cautious about violating a horseman’s due process.

“We tripped there before,” Duncker said.

Violette said that it’s important for NYRA to make sure it doesn’t send the wrong message that the game is rife with cheaters.

“Serious violations with someone trying to alter the outcome of a race is incredibly small,” Violette said. “Be careful to send the right message that we’re going after a very small percentage of people who don’t play by the rules. If don’t send that message we’re hung by our own petard.”

The Safety Committee is charged with coming up with ideas to make things safer at NYRA’s tracks. One idea being studied is the feasibility of installing synthetic surfaces at both Belmont and Aqueduct.

Glen Kozak, NYRA’s director of racing surfaces, said he is doing “fact-finding” on the issue that includes meetings with officials who market the Tapeta surface as well as those who produce Polytrack. Kozak said he should have information to present to the NYRA board in four to six weeks.

“We don’t have the opportunity at Saratoga we do at Belmont for sure – you could get a mile track inside [the main] – and at Aqueduct you have to go through the configuration on what makes the most sense,” Kozak said.

Kozak said a synthetic surface would not be something employed only for winter racing, but it could help preserve the turf courses at Belmont in the event inclement weather forced races off the turf.

The Safety Committee can only make recommendations to the board. The decision to install a synthetic surface would have to come from the full board.

Also at the meeting, it was revealed that a bill was introduced to cut the number of mandatory dates from Dec. 1 to April 1 from 95 to 75. Violette said that suggestion is “flat out not acceptable to horsemen and breeders.” Earlier this winter, NYRA sliced six days off the winter schedule with the blessing of the horsemen and breeders.

Violette did say that a well thought-out reduction in winter dates is something the horsemen might be amenable too provided they are part of the planning process.