03/22/2012 4:42PM

Wide-ranging group named to New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. – A Hall of Fame jockey, two well-respected veterinarians, and a high ranking official of two industry organizations have been retained by the New York Racing Association to investigate the rash of breakdowns that occurred during Aqueduct’s inner-track meet.

Jockey Jerry Bailey, Dr. Scott Palmer, Dr. Mary Scollay, and Alan Foreman, chairman and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, comprise the newly formed New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety. This group was recommended by the NYRA and approved by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, which sent out a press release on Thursday announcing the task force.

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a letter to NYRA president Charles Hayward calling for NYRA to form a team to investigate why there were 18 racing fatalities during the inner-track meet from Dec. 14 through March 18. A 19th horse died as the result of a cardiovascular collapse. A 20th horse died as a result of an infection a few days after running.

Nine of the 18 fatal breakdowns occurred in the last 17 days of the meet.

The task force will be charged with examining the condition of Aqueduct’s inner track and review and advise on policies relating to public disclosures, necropsies, track conditions, and pre-race examination of horses.

Further, the team will examine rules and practices relating to claiming procedures, veterinary procedures, and equine drug use.

Bailey is a Hall of Fame rider who rode on the NYRA circuit for years. He is currently a television racing analyst.

Dr. Palmer is the hospital director and staff surgeon at the New Jersey Equine Clinic, where he has practiced for more than 30 years. He currently serves as chairman of the Association of Equine Practitioners.

Dr. Scollay is the equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Previously, she led a pilot race horse injury reporting project that eventually became the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database.

Foreman, in addition to his position at the THA, also serves as vice chairman of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and serves as counsel to many horsemen’s and racing industry organizations.

“This team of renowned experts has the knowledge, experience and objectivity to shine a light on the causes behind these tragic breakdowns,” John Sabini, chairman of the State Racing and Wagering Board said. “I’m confident their findings will improve the safety and well-being of equine athletes racing in New York.”

The task force will begin its work promptly and provide a comprehensive review and report with findings and recommendations to NYRA, the State Racing and Wagering Board, and the public.

“Providing a safe environment to conduct racing is NYRA’s highest priority and this panel of industry experts will ensure that the proper procedures and best practices are in place to reduce the inherent risks involved in horse racing,” Hayward said.

While no horsemen voiced complaints about the inner track, NYRA elected to move the opening of the main track from April 4 to Wednesday. There were no incidents on Wednesday or Thursday.

However, there were 18 scratches on Wednesday and 14 more on Thursday, leading to the belief that NYRA and horsemen are being more cautious about which horses are permitted to run.

“Everybody’s got to be more careful,” said Rick Violette, head of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and a trainer who scratched a horse Thursday after the horse didn’t act the same following being shod. “The lions are at the gate. It’s flat-out common sense to be very responsible here as we move forward.”