NYRA eliminates detention barn

The New York Racing Association announced Wednesday that it has scrapped a 5-year-old policy that required horses to be isolated in a security barn six hours prior to running in any race at a NYRA track, effective with the start of the Saratoga meet on July 23.

The decision to abandon the policy comes one week after horsemen threatened to boycott the entry box following earlier unsuccessful attempts to convince NYRA to eliminate the barn. Some horsemen have said that the barn disrupts their operations, creates a stressful pre-race environment for horses, and adds to raceday expenses.

In a news release, NYRA said that it was implementing more stringent post-race and pre-race testing procedures to deter cheating at its tracks as a result of eliminating the security barn. In practice, the barn prevented horsemen or veterinarians from administering illegal drugs to horses while they were isolated because treatment of horses in the barn was restricted to state veterinarians.

NYRA was the only racing association in the country that used a detention barn. The policy was adopted in 2005, following a well-publicized probe by state officials into allegations of fraud by mutuel tellers working at NYRA tracks. As a result of the probe, NYRA accepted a deferred-prosecution agreement that required the association to hew to strict standards of security that were in some cases unique among U.S. racetracks.

Although horsemen publicly supported the establishment of the barn at the time the policy was adopted, they did so in large part because opposition to the barns would have been politically unpalatable. Since then, horsemen have grown weary of being unable to monitor their horses prior to the race and have begun to argue that sophisticated pre-race and post-race drug tests effectively deter and catch cheaters regardless of whether horses are isolated or not.

Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said that the new testing procedures and NYRA's plan to have security personnel monitor horses who have been entered to race creates a "better mousetrap" for backstretch security.

"It'll be more horse-friendly without sacrificing the highest level of integrity in the business," Violette said.

With the elimination of the barn, private veterinarians will once again be able to administer the legal raceday diuretic Lasix to horses. NYRA said that it will closely monitor those administrations and that it will test horses for milkshakes prior to races at an assembly point located near the saddling area at its racetracks. Milkshakes are concoctions of baking soda and other ingredients intended to improve a horse's stamina. They are typically administered within several hours of a race.