01/17/2013 5:19PM

NYRA considers cutback to inner-track racing schedule

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – A reduction to a four-day race week and a cutback to eight races per day during Aqueduct’s winter meet as well as the replacement of Aqueduct’s inner track with a synthetic surface will all be considered at next Friday’s meeting of the New York Racing Association Reorganization Board, it was announced Thursday afternoon.

These measures, as well as others, are in response to the four racing fatalities that occurred during the first 16 days of the inner track season. There has not been a racing fatality since Jan. 10.

The board also will consider curtailing racing on the inner track, which – though not clearly defined – likely means moving racing to Aqueduct’s main track earlier than the tentative March 30 date that was mentioned in the press release. Last year, due to good weather, the main track opened two weeks earlier than scheduled. If that’s the case this winter, then one could reasonably expect the main track to open March 17.

Last year, there were 21 racing fatalities over the inner track, which led to Gov. Andrew Cuomo forming the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety. That group made many recommendations, though, surprisingly, none mentioned a reduction in racing days or races.

One recommendation the Task Force made that will now be implemented by NYRA is to establish the position of an Equine Veterinary Medical Director. That individual will establish the Mortality Review Board.

Last week, the New York State Racing and Wagering Board implemented the Task Force recommendation to have all euthanized horses at Aqueduct undergo a necropsy at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University.

“NYRA is taking immediate steps to try to prevent more catastrophic injuries from occurring,” NYRA chairman David Skorton said in the release. “We are establishing a new position, Equine Veterinary Medical Director, to be in charge of the health and safety of horses at all NYRA tracks and direct investigations into these unfortunate events.”

Earlier this year, the NYRA implemented stricter recommendation guidelines put forth by the Task Force, including a two-week withdrawal time for the administration of the highly used medication clenbuterol. In other jurisdictions – including those in the Mid-Atlantic region – the withdrawal time is four days or fewer. That, as well as longer withdrawal times for the administration of certain steroids, has resulted in far few shippers coming to New York to race this winter.

“We need to be given the opportunity to shrink the season a little bit,” said trainer Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association and a non-voting NYRA board member. “One of the reasons is the new medication standards we set here – it’s resulted in over an 80 percent reduction in shippers.

“We’re not going to yield on the heightened medication policies right now; we can ride this out,” Violette added.

It is worth noting that legislation would have to be passed in order to reduce the number of racing days run during the winter. Current law requires NYRA to card 95 racing dates from Dec. 1 through May 1 or face penalties in the form of higher taxes.