When we signed off on Friday the Daily Racing Blog was hoping that Monmouth Park would cancel its card on Saturday (as did other east coast tracks) due to expected blistering temperatures and excessive humidity.
Unfortunately Dennis Drazin who owns Darby Development, which operates the facility didn’t see it that way. He referenced a heat threshold the track needed to reach before deeming racing unsafe. There was no number given or formula cited.
So while racetracks in neighboring New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland canceled their cards before the day began, (too hot there) Monmouth did not, as an unscientific ocean breeze was mentioned as an aid to beat the heat.
So add heat index to the growing list (along with medications, whips, track surfaces) of jurisdiction discrepancies in the thoroughbred racing industry. Absent of any kind of minimum standards, the sport could be one independent track management decision away from its next crisis.
Monmouth Park did run the first two races of the day Saturday with a heat index surpassing 105, only then axing the rest of the Haskell under-card, but did finish the Stakes Races later in the evening.
But what if Drazin had risked running all 14 races of the Saturday card, and somewhere along the way a horse broke down? It wouldn’t just be a Monmouth Park problem.
It would be a Churchill Downs’ issue, a Saratoga issue, and the issue of every other racetrack in America.
That’s where we are now after equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park became a national story, one that led reporters to scrutinize (rightfully so) their local tracks. Yet none of those entities had a say in what happened Saturday.
There has been talk of a commissioner in racing — an over-seer to keep everyone in line. That seems a bit radical for a sport that can’t even determine how hot is too hot to race.
But what if every racetrack ownership group appointed a representative to a decision-making panel that set minimum standards at its facilities? A governing board if you will.
Together they could decide how high can the heat index go? How much, if any, Lasix is allowed? Should race programs be free to fans at racetracks? An so on.
And if a track doesn’t want to join this governing group of owners? Don’t distribute the signal of tracks offering a sub-par product. Make those races invisible to Off Track Bettors until the non-joiners get on board and properly run their facility. Especially now in an era where awareness of equine safety has never been higher.
This is not a unrealistic idea, as much as it isn’t a surefire solution, because what tracks want in some instances, horsemen, state regulators and bettors won’t.
But the industry needs to show that it’s doing everything possible to prevent breakdowns, while maintaining a consistent approach with a united front when they do happen, because they will happen.
So for all that is good in the world of horse racing; please try something.
Because for now, the entire industry is on the hook for what happens at peer tracks that don’t share the same standards.