|Funding is key to racing reforms|
|By: PAUL POST , The Saratogian|
|SARATOGA SPRINGS – People throughout thoroughbred racing are hailing proposed reforms as positive steps toward improving the sport’s safety and integrity.
The hard part will be paying for those reforms.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association unveiled on Wednesday a new Safety and Integrity Alliance that deals with everything from uniform medication rules and a steroids ban to mandatory racetrack safety rails and a retired racehorse placement program.
"The concept is a good one," said Rick Violette, a trainer and president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. "The devil is always in the details. Who’s going to pick up the tab? None of these are free initiatives. Following through is going to be the challenge. That doesn’t come cheaply."
NYTHA has agreed to contribute up to $500,000 from purse revenues for new drug-testing equipment at Cornell University. Plans call for having it in place sometime next year.
By joining the Alliance, member racetracks pledge to adhere to new safety and integrity proposals and initially, they’ll be responsible for paying for them.
New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct, has joined the Alliance. But the firm recently emerged from bankruptcy and is still struggling to get back on its feet financially.
Magna Entertainment, North America’s largest racetrack operator, also belongs to the Alliance, but it, too, has had major financial difficulties.
"I hope the tracks have enough funds," said retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, Saratoga’s all-time leading rider.
"It’s always a good thing when people try to make racing a little bit cleaner."
He said he’d like to see reforms go even further to include a ban on front-shoe toe grabs, which are believed responsible for numerous equine injuries, and pain-killers.
"Horses that can’t feel pain run through it and break their legs off," he said. "Jockeys don’t stand a chance on horses that race with pain-killers."
Bailey said he strongly supports efforts to install safety rails.
"It’s a needed item, but it’s a lot of money," he said.
NYRA has said it won’t be able to make large-scale capital improvements until gaming revenue becomes available from Aqueduct’s proposed video lottery terminal facility. However, it has already begun addressing issues such as integrity.
A few years ago, NYRA became the nation’s first thoroughbred track operator to install a pre-race drug testing barn. Horses are sequestered there six hours prior to races.
Popular New York trainer Gary Contessa said he applauds all aspects of the Safety and Integrity Alliance.
"I love it," he said. "It runs the gamut for all things I want to see in this game. I’m 100 percent in favor of it."
Contessa said he’s especially supportive of uniform medication rules that aim to level the playing field between different tracks. "You go state to state and it’s amazing how much the rules vary," he said.