TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and New Jersey Racing Commission Executive Director Judith A. Nason announced today a series of rule change proposals designed to enhance the safety of the state’s horse racing industry for horses and riders alike.
“We take seriously our responsibility to protect all horse racing participants here in New Jersey,” said Attorney General Grewal. ”We believe the reforms we’ve proposed will make the actual competition safer and more humane for all concerned, and at the same time enhance the State’s understanding of pre-existing health conditions and other trends that could endanger the lives of race horses.”
The proposed reforms include a rule that would ban all uses of a riding crop on thoroughbred race horses -- unless use of the crop is needed in an emergency to avoid injury to the horse or rider. A proposed companion rule for standardbred or harness horse racing would allow limited use of the whip by sulky drivers, but only under tightly restricted circumstances. (A sulky is a two-wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle used chiefly in harness racing.)
Another pair of rule proposals -- one for thoroughbred racing and one for harness racing -- would authorize the Racing Commission to cancel or postpone races when dangerous conditions exist, including extreme weather such as high heat and humidity. The purpose of both rules is to ensure that, in the face excessive heat or humidity, lightning, icy footing or other potentially hazardous conditions, final say over whether to hold a race or not will rest with an impartial authority.
A third pair of rule proposals would expand reporting requirements in the wake of a thoroughbred or standardbred racehorse’s death to enable the Racing Commission to identify factors or trends that may contribute to equine fatalities.
A series of racehorse deaths in other parts of the U.S. earlier this year has placed renewed national focus on the way horse racing is conducted, and on the way horses are treated before, during and after a race. With the reforms announced today, New Jersey is taking a lead role in making the sport safer.
“We’re excited about these reforms because they’ll go a long way toward making horse racing safer here in New Jersey while at the same time preserving the sport’s rich tradition and enhancing fan appeal,” said Executive Director Nason. “At the Racing Commission we are committed to ensuring the horses are treated humanely, and to protecting the safety of all racing participants.”
Race Cancellation Rules
The proposed cancellation rules would grant the Racing Commission “explicit authority” to cancel or postpone horse races when conditions posed an “imminent risk.” Specifically, if a racetrack decided to move forward with racing during extreme weather conditions, the final decision to cancel or postpone would rest with the Racing Commission’s Executive Director. The Executive Director would be free to consult with members of the industry, Racing Commission staff, regulatory bodies from neighboring jurisdictions, and other relevant experts before deciding.
Riding Crop Ban/Whip Restrictions
The proposed rule on use of a riding crop in thoroughbred racing would ban any use of the crop by jockeys and exercise riders to make a horse run faster.
When used in an emergency by jockeys or exercise riders trying to control a horse and
prevent injury, only the “soft tube portion” of the riding crop could be applied, and only to the horse’s shoulders or hind quarters. The rule would prohibit use of any part of the riding crop on a horse’s head or flanks.
The proposed thoroughbred rule also specifies legal limits for the length, diameter and weight of the riding crop, as well as other characteristics (i.e., the grip would have to be smooth, with no protrusions or raised surfaces, and the shaft would have to be covered by shock-absorbing material, etc.)
Under the standardbred racing version, any “one-handed whipping” of horses would be eliminated through the rule’s requirement that sulky drivers keep a line of the reins in each hand through the race finish.
Application of the whip by sulky drivers using only “wrist action” would be permitted under the proposed rule, but even that use would be significantly restricted.
Also, the rule would prohibit use of the whip more than three times in succession without giving the horse a chance to respond. The harness racing version also would shorten the permissible length of any whips used, as well as the length of the “snapper” attached to the end of the whip.
Both proposed rules would require post-race visual inspections of horses to ensure no evidence of injury from excessive whipping.
Equine Fatalities Rule
The proposed rule governing equine fatalities lays out specific reporting and other protocols to be followed in the wake of a racehorse’s death at a New Jersey racetrack or off-track training facility.
Among other things, the rule requires that, within 48 hours of a horse’s death, the horse’s trainer or custodian must file a completed equine fatality report with the Racing Commission’s State Steward or Chief State Veterinarian. The rule would also require that any necropsy be conducted by a qualified veterinarian at a facility designated by the Racing Commission. The rule would apply for any equine fatality that occurs at a racetrack during training or racing, or within one hour after training or racing.
In addition, the attending veterinarian would be required to certify the horse’s cause of death and submit records to the State Steward describing all drugs, medications and other treatments administered to the horse within the prior 30 days. The rule would also prohibit removal of a deceased horse’s remains without the written consent of the State Steward or Chief State Veterinarian.
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