06/17/2008 12:00AM

Jockey Club safety panel calls for reforms

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A committee set up by The Jockey Club to issue recommendations seeking improvements in the health of the horse will ask racetracks to issue "house rules" prohibiting the use of certain horseshoes and whips, the chairman of the committee said on Tuesday. The committee has also recommended that all racing states adopt regulations on anabolic steroids by the end of the year.

Stuart Janney III, the prominent owner-breeder who was appointed chairman of the Thoroughbred Safety Committee when it was formed in early May, said the adoption of house rules by racetracks could sidestep the sometimes time-consuming and unpredictable process of rule-making at the state-commission level. The committee released a recommendation on Tuesday calling for the ban of all front shoes with grabs more than 2 millimeters.

The recommendation on anabolic steroids mirrored an ongoing effort by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium to press states to adopt a rule regulating the administration of the drugs by the end of this year. Eleven states have already adopted the rules, and a number of other major racing jurisdictions are in the process of adoption. In contrast to the recommendations on whips and toe grabs, Janney said the committee believes steroid rules would need to be adopted by state racing commissions, rather than house rules.

House rules are enforced by management or stewards, and they are not uncommon at racetracks. They can be used to disqualify horses that do not comply with equipment standards or entry procedures, and can also be used to regulate practices at racetracks.

The committee was formed on May 8 to study health and safety issues in the wake of the death of the filly Eight Belles after her second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The committee will announce a second set of recommendations at The Jockey Club's Round Table Conference on Aug. 17 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, the equine surgeon who has become the public face of injury reporting during horse racing television broadcasts, said that Eight Belles's breakdown in the Derby and the subsequent focus on racehorse safety may have created the critical mass this year to get the toe-grab ban in place in most racing jurisdictions, even without a house rule.

"I think we have a new impetus to get together as a result of the recent events," Bramlage said.

Studies dating back a decade have consistently shown that toe grabs worn on the front feet significantly increase the rate of catastrophic injuries in racehorses, and the Association of Racing Commissioners International adopted a model rule banning the shoes early in 2007. However, only five racing jurisdictions - California, Indiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Washington - have adopted a ban on the shoes, though others are in the process.

Larry Jones, the trainer of Eight Belles, said Tuesday that all of the horses he trains wear front horseshoes called "inner rims" that were originally developed for the turf. The shoes have a small grab at the front, Jones said, but they do not qualify as front toe-grabs.

"I don't like toe grabs, and I don't use them, and it's for the reasons you're talking about," Jones said.

The committee released its recommendations two days prior to a hearing in Washington called by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection that will focus on injuries and drug use in horse racing. Representatives of the sport are expected to be asked whether the racing industry would be better served by federal regulation instead of attempting to get identical rules passed in the 38 U.S. racing jurisdictions.

For whips, the committee said racing jurisdictions should only allow riding crops that are approved by the RCI Model Rules Committee, in consultation with the Jockeys' Guild, a riders' organization.