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Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Detention Barns

- Besides the shaky start to the Saratoga meet for the fans at the track, the horsemen are up in arms over the pre-race detention barns that their horses are confined to for six hours before the race.

"It doesn't look like something that would be constructed at the Saratoga race meeting," Pletcher said. "It's not a good situation for the horses. It's a concern for their safety and how they're going to perform after being over there for seven hours. These horses are fragile enough. We don't need to create environments they could get hurt in."
"I think what they're trying to do (with pre-race testing) is very solid," Lukas said. "But this is a world-class facility and the best racing in the world. We can't have a Band-Aid approach, and that's what they did." [NY Daily News]
I decided to do a little hard reporting on the subject myself, so I went to the Saratoga backstretch this morning. First, a visit to Billy Turner's barn to try and get a look at Highland Cat. But I was far too late to see him galloping on the track, and since BT has asked all visitors to stay out of the shedrow, the only glimpse of him I could get in the stall was of his rump. It looked nice. I spoke to BT's wife and assistant Pat, and when I asked her about the detention barns, she grew angry and shook her head. "They're big enough for Shetland ponies," she said. She said that two of their horses "won't even fit" and that their entrant today, Truely Ruby in the 7th, was too excitable a filly to handle it, and she discounted her chances based on that. (I was actually interested in that horse today.) And she also echoed the complaints we read about NYRA chairman Charles Hayward, saying that they need to get a horseman running the show.

So I went to see for myself. The stalls definitely look small, though Pat Turner was making them sound like the dressing rooms at the Gap. It was pretty quiet, no commotion, but you could really see the difference from the regular stalls. For one thing, as opposed to Highland Cat who had plenty of room to hide, you could see all the horses, with their heads protruding prominently - and I was much further away then I was from Turner's stall. My main impression was that, as opposed to the horses relaxing in their regular stalls, these horses just seemed uncomfortable, with many of them standing up straight with their ears pricked as if wondering what was next. There were fans going and there seemed like there were enough people available to handle any problems, but I can sure see why trainers and owners would be uncomfortable in having their valuable possessions here.