NJ Racing Industry Could See Rules Changes After Dozens Of Horse Deaths In US

Posted By Bill Gelman on October 25, 2019

The New Jersey Racing Commission and the State of New Jersey announced a series of rule change proposals on horse racing this week. The official announcement was released on Wednesday.

More specifically, the changes are “designed to enhance the safety of the state’s horse racing industry for horses and riders alike.”

Here is a rundown of the proposed reforms:

  1. Ban all uses of a riding crop on thoroughbred racehorses (unless the use of the crop is needed in an emergency to avoid injury to the horse or rider).
  2. Limited use of the whip by sulky (a two-wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle) drivers, but only under tightly restricted circumstances.
  3. Expand reporting requirements in the wake of a thoroughbred or standardbred racehorse’s death to enable the commission to identify factors or trends that may contribute to equine fatalities.
  4. Authorize the racing commission to cancel or postpone races when dangerous conditions exist, including extreme weather such as high heat and humidity.

You can read the full press release here.

Monmouth ParkMeadowlands Racetrack and Freehold Raceway are the three NJ locations with live horse racing.

Making horse racing safer in NJ

Horse racing may not be a contact sport like the NFL. At the same time, protecting racehorses is an ongoing debate that can’t be ignored.

And it’s an issue that New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal takes seriously. More specifically, “our responsibility to protect all horse racing participants here in New Jersey.”

Here is what he has to say about the potential rule changes:

“We believe the reforms we’ve proposed will make the actual competition safer and more humane for all concerned, and at the same time enhance the state’s understanding of pre-existing health conditions and other trends that could endanger the lives of racehorses.”

His team is working closely with the NJRC.

Judith A. Nason, who serves as the NJRC executive director, was pleased with the direction from the AG’s office:

“We’re excited about these reforms because they’ll go a long way toward making horse racing safer here in New Jersey while at the same time preserving the sport’s rich tradition and enhancing fan appeal. At the Racing Commission, we are committed to ensuring the horses are treated humanely, and to protecting the safety of all racing participants.”

Protecting racehorses is bigger than NJ

While the reform only pertains to the competitors at the three NJ racetracks, the issue goes well beyond the Garden State.

Santa Anita Park in California, for instance, made national headlines earlier this year. The story centered around the death of 29 racehorses.

Activists even demanded that the track be shut down.

New Jersey racetracks have avoided the national spotlight as it relates to this issue. And judging by the proposed equine fatality rules, the plan is to keep it that way.

If a racehorse’s death were to occur at an NJ racetrack or off-track training facility, there would be specific protocols to follow.

  • Within 48 hours, the horse’s trainer or custodian needs to file a completed equine fatality report with the racing commission’s state steward or chief state veterinarian.
  • It would be required that any necropsy be conducted by a qualified veterinarian at a facility designated by the NJRC.
  • The rule would apply for any equine fatality that occurs at a racetrack during training or racing, or within one hour after training or racing.
  • The attending veterinarian would be required to certify the horse’s cause of death and submit records to the state steward describing all drugs, medications and other treatments administered to the horse within the prior 30 days.
  • The removal of a deceased horse’s remains would require the written consent of the state steward or chief state veterinarian.

Haskell Invitational and bad weather

Of course, earlier this year, one of the reforms would have come into play at Monmouth Park. Racetrack officials dealt with a serious weather-related controversy with the Haskell Invitational.

The race took place on an ungodly hot Saturday in July. NBC Sports was there to cover the race. Maximum Security competing was attracting national attention.

But the heat and humidity that day forced officials to postpone the marque event to an 8:05 post time. Monmouth canceled several of the earlier races that day.

Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development, operators of the racetrack, released a statement that day addressing the issue:

“We’ve been carefully monitoring the heat for days, including today, and we have a staff of veterinarians and state veterinarians, independent vets and consultants, all of whom tell us it’s safe to run, that we’re below the level required for the recommendation for cancellation.”

The proposed rules put that decision into the hands of the racing commission. This includes canceling or postponing horse races when extreme weather conditions posed an “imminent risk” to the safety of the horses and any participants. The final decision would come from the NJRC executive director.

As per the rules, “the Executive Director would be free to consult with members of the industry, Racing Commission staff, regulatory bodies from neighboring jurisdictions, and other relevant experts before deciding.”

If there are specific cancelation criteria, it has not been announced.

More importantly, all of the rules pave the way for a safer and healthier NJ horse racing industry. After all, the horses and jockeys are the reasons why customers keep coming back.

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Bill Gelman

Bill Gelman is a veteran sports writer based just outside of Philadelphia and not too far from the Jersey Shore. Bill spends time in Atlantic City writing about casino openings and expansions, special events and now NJ sports betting and online gambling.

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