Monday, January 26, 2015

NYRA Needs to Look Deeper

Aqueduct has been the topic of heated discussion in 2015 after he death count rose alarmingly high, at a rate too quick for comfort. However, it is not the just the deaths that have caused the uproar, but their inexplicable nature that has the racing world worried.
The reaction is understandable, 14 deaths in the 27 racing days, since the meet began is far too many. To be exact, that is one death every two days, and nobody can come to a conclusion as to the cause. Some believe it is the track and others believe it is the horses that are being run over the track. Either way, the masses have implored then NYRA for change.
 The NYRA responded to the calls for change with four new policies, they are as follows…. Firstly, any horse that is put on a “poor performance” list will have to work a half mile in 53 seconds or faster, in order to enter future NYRA races. In order to be put on the list, a horse will have to be beaten by a margin of 25 lengths or more. Secondly, race day cards, during the week, will be reduced to eight races. Thirdly, they will raise bottom level maiden claimers from $12,500 to $16,000….And finally, no entries will be taken by those who ran their previous race less than 15 days before.
NYRA considers these changes an “important step toward addressing the troubling situation at Aqueduct.” Yes, this is considered a step in the right direction, but is it enough?
NYRA also has also made other changes, such as breaks in the winter schedule and workout requirements, for those coming off from extended layoffs. These changes, coupled with the four above, could prove helpful over time, but if they don’t? Then what comes next? The one element NYRA is has yet to address is the track.
Aqueduct’s inner track is a natural surface, made of soil, sand to give better drainage, an 8’’ base made of limestone aggregate –topped by a thin half inch, thick clay/sand/silt mix, with the top layer of the track being a sandy loam cushion, nearly 5’’ thick.
Aqueduct originally put in the Limestone base because of its durability. It lacks the violent reactions of other materials, and handles freezing and thawing much better than the clay/silt/sand mix, that is the base of Aqueduct’s main dirt track. However, Limestone aggregate does have its weakness.
Like any type of crushed stone, if the material is too dry, the bonds that hold the packed molecules together, become weak and unstable. That circumstance is far from ideal, when the base of the track needs to be as stable as possible. This can be helped by simply watering the track to the right degree. Watering the track, would help the limestone aggravate bond, stick, and pack together, creating a sturdy base.
Normally, this is not an issue for Aqueduct, as the winter normally produces several feet of snow, which provides natural moisture for the track to soak up. This year, that has not been the case, as there have been only a couple of inches of snow, at the most, during this meet. Now If Aqueduct remembers correctly, there was another spike in breakdowns during the 2011-2012 winter meet, and upon investigation, the only similar factor between the two meets is the lack of snow.

Snow Fall During Meet
Equine Deaths During Meet
14-15 (in progress)
14  (2 months left in meet)

The snow fall provides the natural moisture to keep the limestone base packed together, providing a stable base making for a safer, more stable surface for the horses to run on. As the chart dictates, very clearly, without the proper amount of moisture, the track becomes unstable, and hazardous to run over.

NYRA has investigated one side of the coin, taking steps to improve safety provided by the horsemen. Now, it is time explore other possibilities; Possibilities that could be as simple as watering the track, to ensure the foundation of the track stays as stable and as safe as possible.

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