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.


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on December 7, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. at least 80% of the horses running at aqu live at bel. does that matter?

  2. From April thru oct Belmont does have about 70% of the horse population from nov thru march Belmont has about 700 or 800 horses while aqueduct has about 450 horses not 80% in addition look who won most of the races from nov thru march Rudy Rodriguez ,Rick dutrow,tony Dutrow ,David jJacobson,Rick Violette These aqueduct trainers had a total of 97 wins while a total of all Belmont trainers 116 wins ( top 12 trainers) it was a big time advantage to stable &train @aqueduct last winter the inner tract was engineered to run in temp. 25degrees an below we simply did not have that type of weather and that tract changed and became a very tiring and exhausting surface horses that were training over that tract had a big advantage there were absolutely no break downs in the AM and only 2 of all those unfortunate breakdowns were horse from Aqu the rest were from Belmont or ship ins

  3. Do you believe that a change in heart rate variability or a HR increase at a standard speed might be useful as a warning of impending problems? I suspect many of the horses breaking down have preexisting conditions that increase their chances for a catastrophic injury.

  4. HRV readings are guaranteed to pick up on these pre-existing conditions:


    I sat on an injury board for 3 day eventers years ago during a rash of fatalities – every single one was pinned to intense physiological fatigue and ongoing/undiagnosed problems.

    Too many issues only come up during intense exercise, not during 4F works or measly pre-race jogging exams.

  5. Who do you think should be responsible for pre race examination protocol? Trainers have intense financial pressures to race horses sometimes even when they may know they arent “right”.

  6. The way they do it in equine endurance events is called the Cardiac Recovery Index: during each of several breaks during a 100 mile event, for instance – the horse has his HR taken, then he is jogged down and back, and his HR has to drop accordingly or he is disqualified: no questions asked.

    Would take independent racing officials to pull this off in racing, not vets in my opinion. I once submitted a proposal to the Welfare and Safety gang for a pre-Derby protocol, but it went nowhere. Here are the specifics:


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