The New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety said it did not discover any illegal or criminal activity that led to the unusually high number of breakdowns at Aqueduct between Nov. 30, 2011 and Mar. 18 of this year, it announced at a press conference and public presentation in Albany Friday.
The task force also reported that it did not identify any specific problems with the surface of the inner track at Aqueduct used for winter racing, which it described as "state of the art", or medication issues. However, the task force said that the jump in purses in low-level claiming races from revenue from the Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct led to owners and trainers running horses that were at risk of serious injuries. It also noted the use of corticosteroids may have made it difficult for veterinarians to identify pre-existing conditions; a lack of consistency in pre-race inspections; possible pressure from the racing office on NYRA vets to find horses healthy enough to compete and increase field sizes; the reluctance of jockeys to discuss their concerns about a horse's fitness; and unusually warm and dry weather during the period of the breakdowns.
In its 100-page report the task force made a number of recommendations, including a request that the New York Racing Association consider installing a synthetic track on the inner course and that NYRA vets no longer report to the racing office. The governor's office said the New York State Racing and Wagering Board has been directed to take a number of actions to improve the safety of horses and jockeys.
The four-person task force was appointed by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board at the request of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's office in the wake of an unusually high number of catastrophic injuries on the inner track at Aqueduct during the winter meet.
Governor Cuomo did not participate in the meeting to issue the report. In a statement, he said: "New York is committed to placing the health, safety and welfare of the equine athlete as the top priority of horseracing. As we bring accountability and responsible business practices to horse racing, these recommendations will be an integral part of a new and improved racing product. I have requested the Racing and Wagering Board to promptly adopt the changes identified by the task force to create a safety-conscious environment for racehorses. I sincerely thank the members of the Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety for their important work."