07/26/2005 11:00PM

Horsemen: Barns miss mark

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The upbeat spirit that is usually associated with the opening of Saratoga was sorely lacking on the backside Wednesday when horsemen protested the conditions in the raceday security barns.

The security barns, to which all horses must report a minimum of six hours before race time, are intended to curb the administration of banned medication. They are on the backstretch by the far turn of Saratoga's main track. Two regular barns that house a total of 30 horses are being used in addition to three set up under tents, which house an additional 80 horses.

The temporary structures gave the horsemen the most trouble. First, the temporary stalls are smaller than those in regular barns, 9 feet by 9 feet compared with 9 by 13. Second, the temporary stalls have plywood floors covered by shavings, and horsemen feared that horses could slip and fall. Third, the tents did not have enough electrical outlets to support a proper amount of fans. Horses stabled in the two regular barns were able to have individual fans.

Trainers said the tents tend to retain heat more than a regular barn, a problem in hot weather.

"The tents can be very warm, sometimes hotter than it is outside,'' said assistant trainer Tonja Terranova.

Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association, which operates the track, said all stalls would be equipped to handle an individual fan by Thursday.

Richard Bomze, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, asked NYRA in a letter Wednesday to "suspend the detention facilities at Saratoga until they meet acceptable standards." As an option, Bomze called for NYRA to use the two regular barns and "randomly select two or three races a day to test."

Hayward, who had not seen the letter, said he believes the size of the temporary stalls is adequate but added, "If they're unsafe or inappropriate, we're going to have to do something.'' Hayward said similar-sized stalls were used at Pimlico and Tampa Bay Downs as well as for horse sales run by Fasig-Tipton.

Horsemen met with management late Tuesday and again Wednesday to address their concerns. One problem that was corrected immediately Wednesday was the entrance to the security barns. Horsemen wanted it moved to the back of the facility rather than the front, where horses could be backlogged while other horses were training a few feet away.

Horsemen said they were upset because management did not consult them about setting up the security barn.

"If we didn't properly consult NYTHA or the horsemen, then shame on us," said Bill Nader, NYRA's senior vice president. "But the things that we have to correct will be done."

Nader said that a back-up generator would be brought in to allow for the additional fans and that rubber mats would be put over the plywood floors, underneath the shavings.

The smaller temporary stalls may have affected one horse Wednesday. Purge, last year's Jim Dandy winner who was scheduled to run in an allowance race, washed out very badly and was scratched.

"He got upset when he got over there," said Todd Pletcher, Purge's trainer. "He was in one of the tents. Whether or not that had something to do with it I don't know. Clearly everyone would prefer to go into the barn than the tent."

According to racing secretary P. J. Campo, there is no set formula for determining which horses are in the tents and which ones are in the barns. The only certainty, he said, is that stakes horses will be in the barns.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he is in favor of the security barn, but said the way it is set up is unfair to horsemen and the betting public.

"We've got to put the horse's concerns and welfare first," said Lukas, who had seven runners on Wednesday's card. "I think it's just as unfair to the betting public to have a horse go over there that's completely lost it, is not going to run his race - and his trainer knows he's not - as it would be to say we don't have a level playing field if they were never in the detention barn.

"How is John Q. Public going to determine whether that horse fretted, trembled, and shook for six hours?"

- additional reporting by Karen M. Johnson