Aqueduct: The Face of American Racing

“The only reason it’s [Aqueduct Racetrack] in business is because of the casino.” (horseplayer “Harry the Horse,” Gothamist)

Writer Max Rivlin-Nadler sets the scene on Aqueduct’s Opening Day (Oct 29th):

“Aqueduct, with its wooden seats, tobacco-stained walls, and cavernous feel, remains as a vestige of a seedier time in New York City, before such cathedrals to vice were done in by changing tastes and corrupt management; $14 million in recent capital improvements have given Aqueduct a new scoreboard and a beautiful mural, but still, opening day didn’t really have much of a celebratory air about it.

‘This place has depreciated a lot,’ Angelo [another horseplayer] told me. ‘Used to be men in suits—now look at us.’ The crowd was as outerborough as it gets. Sweat suits, crumpled hats, and an air of desperation that tends to hover around people who bet on horses.

At noon, racing season at Aqueduct officially began with an electronic rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. On the third floor of the race track, an elderly man stood up and faced a monitor that was displaying the flag, the only soul in a vast concourse that had a maximum capacity of 768.” (full article and pics here)

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With a few exceptions (Saratoga, Keeneland, etc.), Aqueduct is 21st Century American horseracing – eschewed by the young, sustained by racino cash. So you see, we are most certainly not fighting a losing battle. When state legislatures tire of propping an archaic industry – and they will – much of it will go. Guaranteed.

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  1. this is the story at All race tracks. Heartbreaking. No horse should be racing

    Inquiry Faults Racing Officials in Horse Fatalities at Aqueduct

    More than half of the 21 racehorses who had fatal breakdowns at Aqueduct Racetrack earlier this year might have been saved had racing authorities more closely monitored their health and the liberal use of prescription drugs to keep them racing, according to an investigation ordered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York.

    The investigation found that veterinarians and officials of the New York Racing Association often cared more about filling races that generate revenue for trainers, owners and the racetracks than about whether horses were fit to compete.

    Mr. Cuomo, who took control of racing in the state this summer, is expected to announce a series of overhauls on Friday in Albany that will restrict the use of potent anti-inflammatory drugs known as corticosteroids, as well as clenbuterol, a widely abused bronchodilator that can build muscle if used improperly.

    The Aqueduct findings come as racing wrestles with a drug culture that many of its most experienced officials recognize is diminishing the sport. Congressional hearings have been held, and racing’s governing body has issued new regulations and is contemplating even more sweeping action. Some are calling for an outright ban on drugs in the sport.

    The panel is expected to recommend that one of the strongest corticosteroids, Depo-Medrol, not be given to a horse within 15 days of a race. In April, The Times found numerous instances of corticosteroids being injected in horses in the days leading to their fatal races, according to veterinarian records.

    Investigators became concerned about clenbuterol when they found that some horses were getting it almost continually from their private veterinarians. Clenbuterol is approved only for the short-term treatment of respiratory disease, and is very effective. But when used in large amounts over a lengthy period, it builds muscle and can also cause health problems or death.

    Under current rules, clenbuterol has to be withdrawn four days before racing. That will now become 21 days. Several other states, including California, have already taken steps to restrict the drug’s use.

    Only veterinarians can legally prescribe medicine for horses, yet veterinarians often let trainers, who are paid to win races, make medical decisions, including which drugs to use. These veterinarians also have a powerful financial incentive to prescribe drugs. They are both doctor and drugstore, so the more drugs they prescribe, the more money they make. Selling and administering drugs accounts for most of their income.

  2. here are comments from an exercise rider on this track..

    exercise rider
    elmont, NY

    A good start, but not enough.

    Another item needing attention is the poor condition of the racing surfaces themselves. Dirt courses at NYRA tracks are often sealed every day after use. All this does it make the course something akin to asphalt (and when it ‘s that way, the horses might well be running on Hempstead turnpike )

    The turf course is even worse, hard as a rock and about as safe.

    NYRA has a bad habit of hiring incompetents recently. They used to have a magnificent Track Superintendent, Don Orlando, but with him went knowledge and solid horse sense. Now the horses pay for NYRA’s stupidity.

    I’m not hopeful anything will change-and may God help the horses.


    Racing Economics Collide With Veterinarians’ Oath

    Twenty years ago, a prosperous California veterinarian, Dr. Gregory L. Ferraro, surprised his colleagues when he publicly condemned a prescription drug culture that he had helped create.

    Six years later, he left a racetrack practice with more than $2 million in annual billings — mostly for drugs and other treatments.

    Dr. Ferraro says he and other veterinarians share the blame for turning racehorses into commodities.

    “We took a beautiful, noble thing and screwed it up,” he said. “Horses are too good to put a price tag on. Some things ought to be sacred.”

    Racing authorities in Europe and Hong Kong will not allow horses to compete with any prescription drugs in their bodies.

    The Times reported that since 2009, 3,800 horses had tested positive for drugs, the vast majority for illegal levels of prescription drugs. (State rules specify allowable drug levels or how close to race time a drug can be administered.) Many veterinarians and trainers say these test results are mistakes, not attempts to cheat. Yet veterinarians who may have played a role, inadvertent or not, in the positive tests usually escape serious scrutiny because of the trainer responsibility rule, where trainers are automatically held responsible, regardless of circumstance.

    When not used as directed — in high doses or from an illegal supplier — clenbuterol has killed horses and caused a host of health problems.

    The drug’s manufacturer, Boehringer Ingelheim, says clenbuterol “should be withdrawn” after 30 days. “Long term, you start pushing a horse into the beginning stages of heart failure,” explained Kenneth H. McKeever, associate director of research at the Rutgers Equine Science Center. But many veterinarians do not follow this guideline, treatment records show.

    Scott Lake, a trainer who for many years led the nation in wins, is an unabashed fan of clenbuterol. “I use a lot of clenbuterol in horses,” he said in a televised interview early this year, calling it a good bronchodilator. He also criticized regulators for giving trainers “a black eye” for positive tests on clenbuterol, since it is not an “exotic” drug. Mr. Lake has been cited seven times in four states for illegal levels of clenbuterol.


    Los Alamitos Race Course has cancelled the 2014 Champion of Champions. The historic classic, first run in 1972, has usually determined World Championship honors. It was felt by track management that for several reasons this year’s edition of the race would not draw a representative field of horses from the nations leading quarter horse tracks.

    Los Alamitos track owner, Ed Allred, stated that “the major quarter horse tracks and the American Quarter Horse Association need to standardize and enforce regulations prohibiting clenbuterol and its analogues”.

  5. I remember the days when the stands were full EVERY day & not many break downs. I also remember running the track to get to a broken down horse, crying, having to carry on, as my barn would race 2-3 a day. I remember when I would hang out on the 2nd or 3rd floor bar. Friend Anita & I with her little girl who married LL. Cab Calloway always there to greet us. Not better times, just times that we were ignorant. I pray this sport goes the way of the dinosaur. I don’t know what will happen to the remaining horses nor jockeys. The trainers & owners & go to Hell (save my ex who REALLY cares) We have to stop it somewhere so that future generations aren’t submitted to this torture & then the torture of slaughter after.

  6. I want to point out that many people who still work on racetracks are afraid to speak out. They have much to say, but will suffer consequences if they say something. Also, many race trackers are not educated, and may not have access to social media.. In essence, there’s an entire group of people who are silent about what’s going on. I’ve had many people in the industry come to me, and thank me for having the guts to say something. This is a very powerful group who not only use and abuse horses, but people as well.

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