The State Racing and Wagering Board yesterday announced new regulations for the Belmont Stakes aimed at guarding the integrity of the race. The rules, according to SRWB chairman John Sabini, "will protect horses, riders and the betting public and underscore the symbolism of world-class racing held in New York State."
There also will be tighter security around the stakes barn area and stricter drug-testing protocols for the June 9 race. The changes come eight days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a three-year state takeover of the troubled New York Racing Association.
NYRA came under scrutiny after a series of fatal horse breakdowns during Aqueduct's winter meeting and a scandal in which bettors were overcharged that led to the firings of top executives Charles Hayward and Patrick Kehoe.
Under the new measures, all horses in the Belmont Stakes will move to a stakes barn until after the race and get a blood test for illegal substances that will go to the state drug laboratory for immediate review.
SRWB investigators will monitor veterinarians' treatments and examine all their paraphernalia. On June 8, treatment is prohibited without an appointment with investigators, and on June 9 there will be no veterinary visits except for emergencies or by approval of the stewards.
Besides NYRA's usual security measures, SRWB investigators will provide 24-hour surveillance starting Wednesday until after the Belmont. On race day, NYRA will provide extra security teams to supervise the handling and movement of Belmont Stakes horses.
In a statement, SRWB spokesman Lee Park said: "The 2012 Belmont Stakes is the most important horse race taking place in the country. The recent challenges facing the sport in New York and elsewhere speak for themselves. These measures . . . put all involved on a secure, level playing field. They were created in consultation with some of the nation's finest equine security experts, including the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau."
Doug O'Neill, trainer of Triple Crown contender I'll Have Another, was suspended for 45 days last week for a total carbon dioxide overage in a horse he trained in 2010. The ban won't start until July 1 at the earliest. O'Neill told the Daily Racing Form he "had no problem" with the SRWB's moves.
Michael Matz, who trains Union Rags, one of three projected Belmont starters not on the grounds, felt differently.
When contacted by Newsday, Matz expressed annoyance he had to learn of the changes from a Racing Form reporter. "It would have been nice if they'd called me instead of having to hear it from a journalist," Matz said from Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. "We need uniformity in the sport, but it's just another typical thing where every track does whatever it wants."
Matz had planned to ship Union Rags next Thursday for the 160-mile van ride to Elmont. "It's going to be difficult to gallop my horse Wednesday morning and get him up there by noon. But we'll all survive," he said. "It's not that big a deal."