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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

Senator Addabbo’s Bills – A Good Bet for Horses

New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sometimes politicians can be sharp and New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr. is one of the sharpest. Last week Addabbo held a public hearing before two committees of the State Senate that was more reminiscent of a dog and pony show. But this week two bills he sponsored that would benefit New York’s horseracing industry passed in the NYS Senate. One bill will increase protections for horses; the other authorizes the New York State Gaming Commission to participate in the Mid-Atlantic Interstate Equine Testing Drug Compact. Both bills moved to the Assembly, which has until midnight tomorrow to approve, June 19 marking the end of the current legislative session.

Edited press release

From the office of Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr.
Queens, NY, June 17, 2019

One week after the NYS Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering and the Domestic Animal Welfare Committee held a public hearing on the welfare of racehorses, the Senate passed two bills sponsored by Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. to increase protections for racehorses. 

The first bill (S.1974-A) establishes the Commission on Retired Racehorses and the second (S.6142) authorizes the NYS Gaming Commission to participate in the Mid-Atlantic Interstate Equine Testing Drug Compact. “As chair of the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee and a member of the Domestic Animal Welfare Committee, I recognize the importance of protecting active and retired thoroughbreds,” said Addabbo. “With Aqueduct Raceway [cq] in my district, I appreciate how important the racing industry is to our state’s economy so by working to reduce racehorse injuries and fatalities, and ensuring that they receive appropriate and compassionate care when their racing days are over, we can create a more positive overall racing industry,” Addabbo added.

Addabbo’s bill (S.1974-A) will give the Commission on Retired Racehorses oversight on the treatment and handling of retired racehorses while maintaining a registry of retired racehorse owners. The definition of “retired race horses” includes thoroughbred and standardbred horses registered in NY and no longer engaged in racing. New owners of retired racehorses must notify the Commission within 72 hours of any change in ownership or upon the death of a former racehorse, as certified by a veterinarian. Violations are subject to civil penalties not to exceed $500. Currently, once a racehorse becomes unprofitable for owners, there is little oversight on handling of retired horses and many get sold to international slaughterhouses for human consumption despite having drugs and medications in their systems not meant for human consumption. 
New York is the largest racing jurisdiction within the Mid-Atlantic region that also includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia. 

Addabbo’s bill (S.6142) will promote, streamline and allow for uniform adoption of model Thoroughbred industry medication rules and standards, enhance equine drug testing, and standardize the ability to maintain the integrity of racing by protecting the health, safety and welfare of the horse and rider. The Compact Commission will only propose the adoption of rules that have been studied, considered, proposed and adopted by the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which is the racing industry’s “scientific arm” and the Association of Racing Commissioners International. All Thoroughbred industry stakeholders will participate in the rules development process. This legislation was signed into law in Maryland and Delaware.

Both bills passed by the Senate were delivered to the Assembly where they are being considered. [editor’s note: The Assembly version of the bill, first introduced in 2015, is A3535.]

By Mark Berner

One Senate bill increases protections for active and retired racehorses and establishes a five-member commission, which shall be responsible for the oversight of retired racehorses including the creation of a registry to track such. 

The purpose of the commission is to monitor the whereabouts and treatment of retired racehorses and to prevent the illegal transport of horses into the inhumane international slaughter industry. 

Most importantly, Addabbo’s bill contains a mandate that the Compact Commission will only propose the adoption of rules that have been studied, considered, proposed and adopted by the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which is the racing industry’s “scientific arm” and the Association of Racing Commissioners International. This means all Mid-Atlantic racetracks shall be aligned with RMTC and ARCI model rules.

Dr. Scott Palmer, DVM, testified at the public hearing that after a spate of equine fatalities at Aqueduct Race Track during the winter of 2011-2012, there has been a 46% reduction in racing fatalities at Thoroughbred racetracks in New York: Finger Lakes and the three New York Racing Association tracks; Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.

Palmer reported that racing fatalities in New York in 2018 averaged 1.29 per 1,000 starts, well under the national average of 1.68. 

By comparison, Churchill Downs was second highest in the nation last year at 2.73 per 1,000, and Santa Anita, which suffered a rash of fatalities this winter, averaged 2.36 fatalities per 1,000 starts for 2016-2017 season, the latest listing made available by the California Horse Racing Board.

Palmer developed a system in 2012 to improve the average in New York and has been highly successful in leading the US with a better model. That standard will be adopted by the Mid-Atlantic Compact, the second Senate bill authorizing New York’s relationship.

Just as New York led the way after tragedy struck at Aqueduct, California has taken up that mantel enforcing tighter restrictions after a series of fatalities at Santa Anita Park last winter. The new measures, including reduced drug use and better monitoring, have led to fewer equine fatalities in the months since.

It was announced last Wednesday that a five-member team of independent veterinarians and stewards from the California Horse Racing Board to will oversee racing and training at Santa Anita and ensure new safety measures designed to protect horses are followed.

Even though the situation has abated greatly, rumors that the Board of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. is still considering a switch from Santa Anita to Churchill Downs despite the fact that Churchill has one of the worst fatality averages in the country. 

It is a tough spot for Breeders’ Cup Ltd. If a horse breaks down at either racetrack, the decision will forever be questioned. Should the Breeders’ Cup remain at Santa Anita this November as scheduled, or should it be moved to Kentucky? 

Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

© Mark Berner,, June 18, 2019, All Rights Reserved.

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