05/08/2008 12:00AM

Jockey Club forms health and safety panel


The Jockey Club has formed a seven-member committee that will issue recommendations on how "to improve the health and safety of Thoroughbreds" in the wake of the death last Saturday of the filly Eight Belles shortly after she finished second in the Kentucky Derby, the organization announced on Thursday.

The committee will be asked to review breeding practices, medication, the rules of racing, and track surfaces, according to the Jockey Club. A conference call to discuss the initial priorities of the committee has been scheduled for Wednesday, according to committee members.

The breakdown and subsequent euthanization of Eight Belles has become a flash point of criticism of the racing industry over the past week. Her death followed the high-profile breakdowns of George Washington in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park and the death of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro from injuries he suffered in the Preakness Stakes.

The Jockey Club maintains the official breed registry of the North American racehorse. It does not have any power to mandate rules in racing states, though the organization has sponsored two summits over the past 20 months focusing on health and safety issues in an effort to influence policy makers in the sport.

Dr. Hiram Polk, a University of Louisville professor of surgery who has been appointed to the committee, said on Thursday that the committee "has a lot of hard work in front of it" to address the criticisms of the racing industry following the death of Eight Belles. He acknowledged that the committee will not be able to force any tracks or breeders to adopt its recommendations, but said that the committee will attempt to identify feasible recommendations that can be adopted without significant hardship.

"We're not going to send thunderbolts down," said Polk, who is a Thoroughbred owner and breeder and participated in the two Jockey Club summits. "You want to come up with ideas that people can buy into, recommendations that you can take to racing commissions that can be implemented, ideas and information that can influence the trends at the sales."

Much of the criticism of the racing industry since the death of Eight Belles has been focused on the filly's trainer, Larry Jones, and her rider, Gabriel Saez, along with standard racing practices such as the use of the whip and race-day medications. Polk said that the criticism of Jones and Saez was misguided, but that racing should be doing a better job of explaining the many factors that cause breakdowns so that those types of comments are not taken seriously.

"Everyone had to get behind this idea that we are aware of these problems and that we are addressing them in a meaningful way," he said.

The other members of the committee are Stuart Janney III, the chairman of Bessemer Trust Company and a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, who will serve as chairman; John Barr, a real-estate developer who owns horses; James Bell, the president of Darley USA; Dr. Larry Bramlage, a partner in Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital; Donald Dizney, the owner of Double Diamond Farm in Florida; and Dell Hancock, the co-owner of Claiborne Farm outside of Lexington.