Rash of Aqueduct Breakdowns Should be Called ‘Belmont to Aqueduct’ Breakdowns
Talked to a NY based trainer this morning who shed some light on this subject for me; I sat mostly silent when this was in the media earlier this year – but something he told me today warranted a quick look at the report/analysis/recommendations. Here it is in its entirety:
To recap: there were 21 fatalities over the AQU inner track from NOV 2011 thru MAR 2012. The resulting 209 page report can be summed up in 9 words:
18 of the 21 fatalities were shippers from Belmont.
I haven’t researched the true number, but I would estimate that 3 breakdowns in 4 months of horses that train/race at Aqueduct is probably about average. It’s the other 18 instances that jump out off the page. Also of note, NONE of these fatalities took place in the morning training time, all were in races. Look at the graphic above; only 4 of the 21 injuries took place before fatigue starts to set in – the rest were in the turn, down the stretch, or around the wire. No way you are going to get that cumulative fatigue effect breezing 4F in :50 in the mornings.
And yet, here is the official ‘red flag’ list:
-Horse hasn’t started in last 15-30 days
-Horse in its first racing season
-Horse made its first start at age 3 or older
-Horse making numerous starts in last 1-6 months
-Horse racing further than 7F
-Horse running for a $25k claiming tag or less
And what, pray tell, did the esteemed commission recommend to avoid this rash of injuries in the future?
Increase window of time before a race where therapeutic drugs cannot be detected, and make sure purses for claiming races don’t exceed the tag by more than 50%. Makes perfect sense, as that should solve everything. What a crock. And of course the agenda-driven NYT published several pieces excoriating vets and greedy owners.
The training surface had certainly been set up to withstand the cold NY winter, and the weather did end up being unusually warm – but the AQU based horses handled those conditions just fine – whereas the BEL trained/housed horses did not.
Reminds me of an instance from Australia:
A client of mine uses the HR/GPS gear daily. His filly trained at home over the dirt surface and typically galloped a mile in 2:30 with a heart rate of 191bpm. He then takes her to the city and the sandy training surface. He takes a notch out and she goes that mile in 2:45, but her HR shows over 200bpm throughout. She was not accustomed to the changed footing, and therefore should have been brought along even more slowly. It was taking her significantly more effort to complete a lesser workload as just a week earlier.
Horses all around the world must train and race on different footings, that is part of the game. Weather alone can drastically alter the makeup of any turf course, for instance. But here in the US we run our races in a very demanding fashion: even claimers go out that first quarter in :22-:23 and everyone struggles home in :26. Therefore, when making such a radical change in surface for raceday – injuries will be more common and not always for any nefarious reason.
Here is the timeline of the 21 fatalities: DEC – 2, JAN – 5, FEB – 6, and just the first half of MAR – 8.
Using the 18/21 statistic above, it’s quite likely that ALL of the catastrophic injuries in DEC-FEB could have been traced to the BEL-AQU angle – and those shippers could have then been excluded from racing in MAR, saving 8 horses from disaster. Sure it sucks for the owners/trainers involved, but who could argue with that data?
My point is that so-called ‘investigators’ need to look at factors outside of the condition book and the syringe when attempting to protect our horse’s health and well-being. In doing so, real-time decisions can then be enacted to mitigate the problems.