Synthetic track coming to Aqueduct?

Installing a synthetic surface for the inner track at Aqueduct Racetrack for the 2013-14 winter season is among the changes to New York Racing Association policies and operations that will be considered by the board at its Jan. 25 meeting.

"The NYRA board will have serious discussions next week to consider important issues that affect the health and safety of our jockeys and horses," said NYRA chair David Skorton in a release.

Other changes to NYRA policies and operations to be considered are as follows:
1. Reduce the number of racing days in a week during the inner-track season at Aqueduct
2. Limit the number of races on a given day during the inner-track season
3. Bolster overall security measures related to pre-race security and racing integrity
4. Curtail racing on the inner track at Aqueduct

Skorton and Anthony Bonomo, chair of NYRA's Equine Health and Safety Committee, also announced the immediate establishment of the position of equine veterinary medical director. The new director will establish the Mortality Review Board, as recommended in the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety report issued Sept. 28, 2012, as well as make ongoing assessments to improve the health and safety of horses competing at NYRA racetracks.

Additionally, NYRA has begun to transport all euthanized horses to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell for complete necropsies.

These actions address the recent catastrophic breakdowns at Aqueduct. Four horses -- El Macho (Dec. 13, Race 1), Bomber Boy (Jan. 6, Race 7), Wildcat's Smile (Jan. 6, Race 8), and Pleasantfriday (Jan. 10, Race 5) -- were injured and euthanized since racing began on the inner track Dec. 12. Racing on the inner track at Aqueduct is scheduled to continue through March 30, though an earlier move to the main track would be considered, weather permitting.

"NYRA is taking immediate steps to try to prevent more catastrophic injuries from occurring," said Skorton in a release. "We are establishing a new position, equine veterinary medical director, to be in charge of the health and safety of horses at all NYRA tracks and direct investigations into these unfortunate events. In addition to these immediate actions, we will soon be making decisions on several specific operational issues in the interest of equine health and safety."

"Addressing the problem of breakdowns at NYRA is our first priority. We will do everything to protect the jockeys and the horses," added Bonomo.

NYRA's veterinary department will report to the equine veterinary medical director, who will be based on-track at NYRA facilities.

Under newly established on-track standard operating procedures, complete necropsies will be performed at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell by a board-certified pathologist with medical records and history from the equine veterinary medical director and NYRA attending veterinarians. These necropsy reports will be incorporated into a new NYRA database that tracks all injuries and mortalities occurring on NYRA tracks, and will comprise a component of the investigation of each fatality by NYRA's new Mortality Review Board.

"The appointment of the equine veterinary medical director clears the way to establish a NYRA Mortality Review Board, one of the key recommendations of the task force," said Ellen McClain, NYRA president and COO, in a statement.

"These new steps will add to a number of recommendations NYRA has implemented during the three months since the task force released its report," she added. "A major step forward is the development of electronic record keeping. We are aggregating moisture content, weather data, and other maintenance information in a single database. Working with industry experts, we are developing the nation's most sophisticated method of data collection, which will ultimately enable evaluation of injuries in the context of track conditions."