01/20/2015 3:27PM

Trainers not pleased with new 14-day run-back rule


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Read the Mirage won Monday’s seventh race at Aqueduct just eight days after he won a $12,500 maiden-claiming race, also at Aqueduct.

Beginning Thursday, what Read the Mirage did won’t be permitted. At least for a while.

In response to 13 equine fatalities in the first 25 full cards (and two races of another program) over Aqueduct’s inner track, the New York Racing Association last Friday announced four new protocols it hopes will enhance safety. One of those protocols prohibits trainers from running a horse back within 14 days of its previous start.

Though Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations, said the 14-day rule is temporary, it has been met with objection by some horsemen on the backstretch of NYRA-operated Aqueduct and Belmont Park.

“I, as a trainer, feel like they’re stepping on toes, that we’re being dictated not how to train our horses but when it’s safe to run them,” said Tom Morley, the trainer of Read the Mirage. “If you’re a licensed trainer then you should know when it’s safe to run your horses. Obviously, injuries and fatalities, very sadly, occur in this industry and they always will. No one sends out a horse expecting them to get hurt – ever.”

Morley and other trainers said they understood that management had to take measures to address the high rate of equine fatalities at the meet. But several trainers interviewed were not sure this measure will prevent fatalities.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Morley said. “We have to get to the bottom of why we’re having a desperate time on the inner track, and this is part of the ruling body’s move. Do I think it’s necessarily good? No. I won two races in eight days with a horse this week. Do I think it might help? I have no idea. The proof will be in the pudding.”

Four of the 13 horses who died at the meet were running back in 11 days or less.

In addition to limiting how soon a horse can run back, NYRA also raised the bottom level for maiden-claiming races from $12,500 to $16,000; cut from nine to eight the number of races run on weekdays; and established a “poor performance” list of horses. Horses who are beaten 25 lengths or more get placed on that list and have to show a half-mile work of 53 seconds or faster to be permitted to enter a race at a NYRA track.

Linda Rice, the second-leading trainer at the meet in wins (14) and starts (67), said she is fine with those three measures, but is “not completely satisfied” with the rule that prohibits running horses back within 14 days.

“I just think it doesn’t allow some very good horsemen who use good judgment, who do a great job, to run their stable the way they would like,” Rice said. “I understand why they did it. I’m not in agreement with that 14-day rule, per se. I think we have other measures we could take instead of that.”

As an example, Rice mentioned giving the racing secretary more discretion on whether to allow certain horses to be entered.

David Jacobson, the leading trainer at the meet with 16 wins from 67 starters, often wheels horses back in less than 14 days and has great success doing so. He offered a “no comment” when asked his opinion on the rule.

Jacobson claimed Socialsaul on Sept. 1 and the horse raced eight times in 69 days from Oct. 19 through Dec. 26, six times running back in less than 14 days. He won five times.

“Can horses run back on short rest? Absolutely,” Jacobson said.

Ludo Bagman, trained by Jacobson, fatally broke down on Dec. 11 at Aqueduct, 11 days after running fifth at Parx.

Trainer Rick Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said that while the 14-day rule “is an intrusion” into a trainer’s operation, “this is a short-term deal.”

Panza said the 14-day rule is “not meant to be long term” and it would be reassessed in a few weeks. There have not been any race-day fatalities in the last four cards, and Panza said he would monitor the situation over the next week or two to determine when the appropriate time would be to lift the 14-day ban.

Beginning Thursday, there are 40 scheduled programs remaining over the inner track. Racing moves to a four-day week beginning Feb. 26 through the end of March.

Condo Commando back to work

Condo Commando, a finalist for the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly of 2014, breezed a half-mile in 52.02 seconds Tuesday morning over Aqueduct’s inner track. It was her first breeze since she resumed training following her 11 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct on Nov. 29.

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez, aboard for the work, said he was happy with the way Condo Commando was moving. While far from committing to it, he mentioned the $100,000 Busher Stakes on Feb. 21 at Aqueduct as a possible return race for the 3-year-old filly.