07/26/2011 3:22PM

Saratoga: Morning traffic jams on turf course lead to restrictions

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Barbara D. Livingston
An unidentified loose horse jumps the rail at the Oklahoma training track on Tuesday at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Tom Bush was intently eyeing Get Stormy as his multiple Grade 1 winner began to pick up momentum under jockey Ramon Dominguez during his final workout over the Oklahoma turf course in preparation for Sunday’s Grade 2 Fourstardave here at Saratoga. Suddenly, Bush heard the blaring sound of the horn that is activated when a horse gets loose on the track.

“I looked over and saw the loose horse beginning to turn back up the stretch [going the wrong way] along the inside fence and my heart started pounding so hard,” said Bush. “I was about as insane as you get watching the riderless horse head in Stormy’s direction. I kept turning back and forth from my horse to the loose horse so many times I don’t even remember where Ramon eventually got him pulled up.”

Fortunately for Bush and the dozens of other horses either working or galloping around the track at the time, the unidentified loose horse decided to wheel about 100 yards from the finish line, crashed and knocked over part of the inside fence, and ran off into the infield, where he was safely pulled up by an outrider a short while later. Meanwhile, Dominguez, ultimately sensing the seriousness of the situation, began to ease Get Stormy up inside the sixteenth pole, completing the work and happily bringing him home safely to his anxious connections.

“When you’re standing right next to the horn it blasts your ears off,” said Dominguez. “But when you’re out on the track working a horse, you can hardly hear it because it just kind of blends in with the noise your horse is making hitting the ground. I thought I heard something around the eighth pole and at the sixteenth pole I could see there was not the usual movement at the finish line and I began to ease up. If I had heard the horn earlier, I would have pulled him up sooner.”

Although Monday’s incident ended without serious injury to any horses or riders, it is symptomatic of a problem that trainers and riders have been worried about for some time, the overcrowding of the Oklahoma turf course when opened for workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout the meet.

According to the Oklahoma clockers, approximately 100 horses turned in timed workouts during the course of Monday’s 45-minute training session on the grass. The majority of those works came within the first 20 to 30 minutes after the course opened, most trainers wanting to give their horses an opportunity to work over the firmer ground before the strip begins to get chewed up from all the activity.

By late afternoon, track management had reacted to Monday’s potentially disastrous situation. Racing secretary P.J. Campo said that beginning Wednesday, only workers, and not gallopers, will be allowed on the course to train.

“It’s a hard balance trying to keep everybody happy,” said Campo. “For now, we’ll keep the gallopers off the course, with the outriders to police the situation. If enough trainers request to use the course for galloping, perhaps we’ll open the infield on a non-work day to accommodate gallopers. Hopefully this will correct the problem.”

Unfortunately for Bush, he had not been made aware of the relatively new policy instituted on the turf course that allows graded stakes horses to work separately from the rest of the population if requested. Sidney’s Candy, who is rated second in Campo’s weights behind Get Stormy (122) at 120 pounds for the Fourstardave, was one of five horses granted special permission to train over the course on Sunday. Trainer Christophe Clement also received permission to work Gio Ponti inside the cones prior to Monday’s regularly scheduled session.

“We started that policy last year, especially for Grade 1 horses, and believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Campo.

Bush, however, said nobody told him he could have worked his two-time Grade 1 winner on Sunday or earlier on Monday.

“I was infuriated I was not informed about the policy,” said Bush. “My horse is a two-time Grade 1 winner and the highweight for the race on Sunday. I wish I had known I had that opportunity. I would have certainly worked him Sunday and avoided what could have been a disaster and some very anxious moments the following morning.”