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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

White Knuckle Time at the Big A

There are going to be some white knuckles for sure in the executive offices at NYRA today as racing at the Big A resumes, and moves to the main track two weeks earlier than originally planned. Of course, everyone involved will be watching a little closer, and most other than Andy Serling won't even have a bet; this in the wake of the bizarre spate of catastrophic equine injuries that we saw on the inner track, 18 in total, which doesn't count a fatal heart attack, nor a horse who suffered a fracture on Sunday, about which Jerry Bossert writes in the Daily News, NYRA didn't reveal the horse’s fate yet. Who knows, maybe even Governor Cuomo, who barely knew racing existed before the issue was brought to has attention, might be watching on the Capitol OTB station. (Or maybe not.)

NYRA officials, as well as jockeys and trainers, insist that the inner track is as safe as can be, and had nothing to do with the deaths. But I can't help but think that, at least at some level, they're going to be hoping that they're wrong about that as they nervously watch the races today. Because the change of track surface is the only thing that will be different today and until April 4. That's when a new condition book comes into effect that will eliminate the lowest claiming class and cut purses for races with claiming prices of $20,000 or less in an effort to dissuade trainers from running unfit horses for outsize purses, the reigning theory of what's behind the problem. So, if it's indeed not the track, then what other than some self-imposed restraint and respect by owners and trainers and the law of averages will prevent the tragedies from continuing?

As a matter of fact, the very first race on Wednesday is exactly the kind of race that is being blamed - a $7500 claiming race with a $29,000 purse, which means that the horses are racing for a winning purse more than twice as much as the horses are theoretically worth. You'd think that maybe NYRA would have instead scheduled something safe in that spot. Like, maybe, a steeplechase race.