09/28/2012 4:18PM

Trainers express doubts over safety report recommendations


ELMONT, N.Y. − While willing to abide by many of the recommendations made by a government appointed task force charged with promoting equine safety, horsemen on the backstretch at New York Racing Association tracks wondered if they would truly prevent horses from breaking down in the future.

On Friday, following five months of research, the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety issued a laundry list of recommendations in the wake of 21 horses suffering fatalities during Aqueduct’s winter meet.

Among those recommendations were a stricter record-keeping process and sharing of medications given to horses; the mandatory reporting of intra-articular corticosteroids; the prohibition of the administration of the medication clenbuterol within 21 days of a race; and a cut in purses in claiming races. It is unclear when these changes would be implemented, though the New York State Racing and Wagering Board plans to hold a meeting within two weeks to make what it calls emergency rules changes.

“I don’t think backing up [the administration] of clenbuterol is going to stop horses from breaking down,” trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said. “Whoever is thinking that, that’s how lost these people are in this game. That’s ridiculous.

“They have to pay more attention to the human beings that are controlling the horses,” said Dutrow, who has not had a fatal breakdown in the afternoon on this circuit in nearly five years. “That is going to help the horses from stopping breaking more than anything else. If they had better horsemen in this country, they’d have less breakdowns. That’s the way I see it.”

Dutrow is facing a 10-year ban from the State Racing and Wagering Board for past violations that included medication positives. He admits that he likes to use clenbuterol − a medication designed to clear up respiratory issues but one that has steroidal properties − to “help keep my horses clean inside” but said if he has to go without it he will.

Todd Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer, said a 21-day withdrawal time makes using clenbuterol “a waste of time.”

The administration of corticosteroids − such as injections of cortisone into horse’s joints − cannot be given within seven to 15 days of a race based on the medication. Also, any such injections will have to be reported to the stewards within 48 hours of those shots being given.

When a horse is claimed, the trainer from whom the horse was claimed must notify the claimant within 48 hours if a horse had been given an injection of an intra-articular corticosteroid within 30 days of the race.

“My first reaction is I don’t mind, but I’m not interested in what another trainer did or didn’t do to his horses,” said David Jacobson, the most active claiming trainer on the grounds. “I value them myself and deal with them accordingly.

“My biggest concern is the massive amount of paper work,” Jacobson said. “Who’s going to do this, the vets?”

The Task Force recommended that the New York State Racing and Wagering Board will require trainers to keep a treatment log, including the time, dose, and route of administration of all medications administered to horses under their care and that the log should be made available to the board on request.

“Are horse trainers known to have good bookkeeping practices?” said Bill Mott, a Hall of Fame trainer.

Jacobson said he was also concerned about a recommendation that would lower the purse-to-claim ratio to no greater than 1.6 to 1, making the value of the horse approximately equal to the winner’s share of the purse.

That could lower purses to below the levels at which they were before the implementation of the video lottery terminals at Aqueduct last October. For example, a $20,000 claiming race could not have a purse more than $33,000. Those purses were $40,000. Before the installation of VLTs, the purse for that race was $36,000.

“That hurts, in my opinion,” Jacobson said. “You should be raising the purse.”

One trainer, who requested anonymity, said the Task Force’s other recommendations would have “far more effect on the safety of the horses than arbitrarily reducing the purses in claiming prices to what was even lower when before we had the VLT money and significantly lower than our competitors out of state. It’d be competitive suicide at the claiming level.”