Aqueduct breakdowns draw attention

OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- The rash of breakdowns over Aqueduct's inner track this winter have apparently caught the attention of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

On Wednesday, Cuomo's office sent a letter to the New York Racing Association's president, Charles Hayward "advising NYRA to hire a qualified independent investigator or team of investigators to review the circumstances involving these breakdowns, analyze the causes and recommend any necessary action to equine breakdowns at NYRA facilities."

The letter, on Cuomo stationery, was signed by Bennett Liebman, Deputy Secretary for Gaming, and Robert Megna, Director of New York State Division of the Budget. Megna is also the chairman of the Franchise Oversight Board, which oversees NYRA's operations.

There have been 16 racing fatalities on the inner track since it opened last Nov. 30. Seven of those fatalities have occurred since Feb. 25, including Hillsboro Bay, who sustained a fatal injury to her right foreleg during the running of Wednesday's ninth race.

"This pattern of equine loss should not be allowed to continue," the letter reads.

Coincidentally, on Wednesday, NYRA announced -- via a paragraph on the Saturday overnight - that racing would move to the main track next Wednesday -- two weeks earlier than scheduled.

The letter said that given the fact NYRA has received $15 million in revenue from the Resorts World New York casino that opened in October, NYRA should pay for the investigation.

"The scope of the review should include existing policies on disclosures, necropsies, track conditions and pre-race examination of horses," the letter states. "The rules on claiming, veterinary procedures, and drug use must be examined to determine what we can do to promote equine safety.

"Everyone understands that horse racing poses risks,'' the letter continued, "but that cannot be an excuse for our inaction. The status quo in all aspects of horse racing is not working, and we need to develop procedures now that work for the horses, riders and the racing public in New York."

In a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon, NYRA said, "We will cooperate with the requests made in the letter, and make a recommendation to the Racing and Wagering Board regarding selection of an investigator."