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Resorts vows to end horse deaths at track

An elevated number of horse deaths plagued this year's racing season at Aqueduct Race Track in South Ozone Park. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

The operator of the racinio at Aqueduct Race Track in South Ozone Park said the company is taking steps to ensure horses are protected after a rash of deaths during this year’s racing season.

As of the end of the racing season, which stretches from October to April 22, 30 horses died either on the track or from injuries sustained during a race — an increase of 100 percent compared to the same period last year, according to a six-week-long investigation by the state Racing and Wagering Board.

Resorts World Casino New York City, which operates a racino next to the race track, said the company will ensure injured equines will not be made to race.

“From the moment we applied for a license to operate a racetrack casino at Aqueduct, it was clear that pursuant to New York state tax law, our efforts would directly protect and support the horse racing industry in New York state,” said Stefan Friedman, a representative for Resorts World. “However, recent extremely disturbing reports about mistreatment of racehorses make it abundantly clear that reform is needed.”

The New York Racing Association, which operates the track, declined to comment stating it would be “inappropriate to speculate before the investigation concludes.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo formed a task force in March to find answers for the elevated number of horse deaths. The task force, consisting of industry experts, is examining Aqueduct’s track, its policies on necropsies, veterinary procedures, equine drug use and purse amounts, which the American Association of Equine Practitioners believes could increase the risk to horses. The formation of the task force came after seven horses died at the track in March.

Part of that investigation has found that purse amounts, or the total money paid out to owners of horses after a race, could be placing the horses in a dangerous position, by making owners more likely to risk racing an injured horse.

Casino operators like Resorts Word are required to pay the equine industry close to 4 percent of their revenues, according to the Racing and Wagering Board. The extra funds generated by Resorts World since its opening in October 2011 have resulted in higher purses, but the casino said it is currently taking steps to ensure horse safety.

“We pledge our full cooperation with Gov. Cuomo’s task force and will abide by any reforms, including the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ recommendation that no purse exceed a horse’s value by more than 50 percent,” Friedman said.

The Racing and Wagering Board issued an emergency rule to reduce the financial incentive for racing an injured horse. In addition, the board is considering changing the rules governing the use of certain drugs in horse racing that cause weight loss and are used on race day to enhance the horses’ performance.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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