As a result of comments I received on my last post, I took another look at the 2012 report of the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety. The Task Force was comprised of widely-respected racing professionals and chaired by New York’s current Equine Medical Director Dr. Scott Palmer.
The Task Force looked at the many factors that may have contributed to the 21 fatalities that occurred during racing at the Aqueduct meet of late 2011 and early 2012, with a view to identifying common elements that could be addressed by changing policies.
The Task Force looked at the “purse-to-claiming price ratio” that is the subject of a recent regulatory change approved by New York’s Gaming Commission and the topic for a hearing tomorrow. As was stated in the earlier post, the Task Force determined that an existing ratio of 2.0 was too high to advance safety, and recommended adoption of a 1.6 standard approved by the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Despite that recommendation, the 2.0 rule remained in effect. The purpose of the new regulation is to allow ratios that exceed 2.0.
The Report identified the ratios that were in effect for 17 of the races in which there were fatalities. (Nineteen of twenty-one fatalities were in claiming races.) In only two of those 17 races did the “purse-to-claiming price ratio” fall at or below the 1.6 standard. In ten races, the ratio exceeded the 2.0 requirement of the regulation that is being revised. The Task Force concluded:
“All of the horses raced during a period of extraordinary claiming activity with elevated purses disproportionate to the value of the horses.”
Among the concerns raised in my prior post about the revised regulation is that the proponents of it – “various interested parties” according to the Commission’s General Counsel – have not been identified. One suspects that NYRA’s Racing Office might be one.
During the 2012 crisis over fatalities, the Racing Office was identified as a possible culprit because, at that time, it could ignore a decision by a veterinarian that a horse should be scratched. The Task Force concluded that the Racing Office’s goal of increasing field size “establishes a potentially critical conflict of interest.” It went on to add that “field size, or the economic impact of a scratch, must never be a consideration when … [assessing] a horse’s suitability to race.” (Emphasis in Report.)
The Gaming Commission is operating secretively, so we do not even know the proponents of this change or what their motivation is. There is nothing in the public record to suggest that New York is not returning to the mistakes identified in 2012. If economic considerations are paramount – as suggested by Dr. Palmer – and driven by field size, as we can only speculate, the outlook is not good for equine safety.
But the public has an opportunity to see the government agency charged with equine safety and integrity in operation tomorrow at the public meeting of the Gaming Commission. There will supposedly be a discussion of comments I submitted on the proposed regulation change. It can be viewed on their website on Thursday at 11:00.