Jockey Club panel to eye safety steps

Committee to suggest, not make rules

May 09, 2008|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Less than a week after the death of filly Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, The Jockey Club said yesterday it is forming a committee to study thoroughbred safety and make recommendations to improve the industry.

Chairing the seven-member committee will be Stuart S. Janney III, whose parents owned Ruffian, who was bred at their Maryland farm Locust Hill. The Hall of Fame filly was euthanized in 1975, when she broke her leg while leading a match race against Foolish Pleasure at Belmont Park.

Janney, chairman of Bessemer Trust Co. and Bessemer Securities Corp. and a longtime Maryland resident, declined an interview request, saying he preferred to wait until after the committee had its first meeting.

But committee member Hiram C. Polk Jr., a thoroughbred owner and breeder and professor of surgery at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, said the task is far-ranging.

"The unsoundness of the contemporary racehorse is a hugely [complicated] thing," he said. "You're talking about shoes, the way they're bred, conditions of racetracks, how the tracks are maintained, how the horses are trained, the weather, medication, whips, vet practices. It's an incredible list -- a lot of little things put under the microscope."

The committee, which will begin by reviewing recommendations from the two Welfare and Safety of the Race Horse summits staged over the past two years, will hold its first meeting Wednesday.

Though the committee will have no power to make the industry implement its suggestions, Polk said the idea is to use the cachet of The Jockey Club to get safety issues "put on the fast track and moved along."

In Delaware, trainer Larry Jones, who has been vilified by animal rights groups for running his filly against colts in the Derby, said he hopes something good can come from the committee but no one should be looking for a perfect fix.

"Could something good come from it to make things safer? Yes," he said. "Will it make horse racing foolproof? No. ... It can't be done."

Jones expressed no second thoughts yesterday about his decision to run Eight Belles. She finished second in the Derby, 4 3/4 lengths behind Big Brown. She was only the second filly in history to finish second in the race, and her performance was the best by any horse against Big Brown in his four career races.

"I have a picture of her 50 yards from where she fell," Jones said. "In that picture, she's a happy horse. She has no idea any thing is wrong or that anything is about to go wrong."

Yesterday during a conference call, it became apparent how difficult the committee's job will be, as longtime horsemen voiced disagreement over what one thing could be done to make racing safer for the horses.

Rick Dutrow, who trains Big Brown, said synthetic tracks are not the answer.

"Good track superintendents are the most important thing," Dutrow said. "If they had good track superintendents, they wouldn't have to go to all these synthetic tracks. Get a good track man, put in a good dirt surface and race."

But trainer Reade Baker, who trains Preakness entry Kentucky Bear, said the best thing for horse safety would be "more stringent racing standards" that would enable vets to scratch more suspect horses.

Meanwhile, Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call vet at this year's Derby, said breeding is at fault.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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