Uniform Security - by Eric Mitchell

(Originally published in the April 13, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Eric Mitchell - @BH_EMitchell on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell Enhanced security measures for both the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) were announced and implemented three days prior to these important Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) prep races.

Santa Anita extended its regular six-hour surveillance period to 72 hours just for the eight horses entered in its marquee race April 6. Surveillance meant having security guards maintain a log of who goes in and out of the barns and to collect the syringes used for any medications administered.

New York also began its monitoring of the 10 horses entered in the Wood Memorial April 3 and took blood samples for out-of-competition drug testing.

“NYRA’s mission statement, ‘meeting the highest standards in Thoroughbred racing and equine safety,’ is exemplified by these additional steps for one of our most important stakes,” said David Skorton, chairman of the recently created New York Racing Association Reorganization Board.

Increased security around high-profile stakes races is certainly admirable, but this kind of one-off ramping up of security begs the question—is racing’s day-to-day security inadequate?

And if the extra security ensures the highest standard for biggest races, why not apply it at least to the other stakes races on the undercards. Aqueduct ran four other graded stakes (grade I Carter Handicap, grade II Ruffian Handicap, grade II Gazelle Stakes, and the grade III Bay Shore Stakes) with a total of 28 horses entered. Santa Anita ran three graded stakes (grade I Santa Anita Oaks, grade II Potrero Grande Stakes, and the grade III Providencia Stakes) and one ungraded stakes, the Thunder Road Stakes, for which 31 horses had been entered. None of the extra security covered any of these horses.

Security at racetracks has simply been too reactionary. NYRA set up a detention barn system in 2005 on the heels of a case involving trainer Greg Martin and milkshaking (tubing horses with a bicarbonate solution to reduce fatigue during a race).
“We think it is an important step in improving the integrity of racing,” said NYRA’s then-president Charlie Hayward.

The detention barn system lasted until 2010 when NYRA announced the barn would be replaced by an in-house drug testing program that utilized state-of-the-art science, technology, and procedural processes. It was reported at the time that NYRA’s new robust testing regimen would be accompanied by equally robust mandatory penalties for trainers whose horses tested positive for illegal drugs.

That is until May 24, 2012, when the California Horse Racing Board handed trainer Doug O’Neill a conditional 45-day suspension for milkshaking. Less than two weeks later NYRA announced it was implementing a new set of security protocols for horses entered in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), which included O’Neill’s Triple Crown title hopeful I’ll Have Another. All Belmont entries had to stable in a special “stakes barn” where they would be more closely monitored than any other horses on the expansive Belmont Park backside.

Trainer Michael Matz said it best when the stakes barn had been announced and disrupted the training and shipping schedule for his Belmont contender and eventual winner Union Rags: “...what I’m disappointed in most is the lack of uniformity. What’s good for New York should be good for Maryland, and what’s good for Maryland should be good for Kentucky.”

Security at a racetrack is essential, but it should not be influenced so easily by individual cases or focus only on individual races. If integrity is the goal, then forget 72 hours of security versus six hours. Instead the focus should be on implementing a consistent, reliable system for all tracks, all horses, and all races 365 days a year.

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