Belmont Stakes: Executives Address Air-Quality Protocols, Introduction Of Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Belmont Stakes: Executives Address Air-Quality Protocols, Introduction Of Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit

Lisa Lazarus, CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority

Saturday's Belmont Stakes will be the first Triple Crown race under the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority's Anti-Doping and Medication Control program regulations and with drug testing overseen by the HISA affiliate, Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit.

Lisa Lazarus, CEO of HISA, and Ben Mosier, executive director of HIWU, held a media round table at Belmont Park on Thursday to outline the progress the two organizations have made and what can be expected going forward, now that the Anti-Doping and Medication Control program went into effect May 22.

Glen Kozak, executive vice president of the New York Racing Association, also spoke about NYRA's commitment to safety as well as the ongoing air quality issues stemming from Canadian wildfires, admitting that “it's out of our control.”

The New York State Gaming Commission issued Air Quality Protocols on Thursday, based on Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and in consultation with NYRA and HISA.  

The protocols allow for racing and training if the AQI is under 150, though horse people are urged to monitor their horses for signs of respiratory inflammation. If the AQI is between 151 and 200, horses will not be allowed to work out or race without certification from their attending veterinarian that they will not be adversely affected  by the elevated AQI. If the AQI tops 200, no racing or training is allowed in New York under any circumstances.

Thursday afternoon's live racing program at Belmont Park was cancelled as was training earlier in the day, though Kozak expressed confidence about the AQI numbers moving in the right direction. “The nice thing to see is the numbers are trending lower,” Kozak said. “There is a trend showing that the numbers will start to diminish this evening and we should be in a much better situation for tomorrow.”

On Wednesday, the AQI reached 265 in the area near Belmont Park. By Thursday afternoon, the AQI near Belmont was 136, according to, well within the range the NYSGC said is acceptable for racing and training.

Mosier said all participants in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and G1 Metropolitan Handicap have been tested out of competition. Those tests and other race-day samples from Belmont Park are all being sent to the University of California-Davis laboratory.

UC-Davis is one of six laboratories that will be used by HIWU for testing at all HISA-covered tracks. The others are at the University of Kentucky, Industrial Laboratories (Colorado), Analytical Toxicology Laboratory (Ohio Department of Agriculture), Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory, and Animal Forensic Toxicology Laboratory at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

To date, Mosier added, 3,500 samples have been collected for testing nationwide by HIWU since the Anti-Doping and Medication Control program went into effect. Those include out-of-competition, post-race, TCO2, and testing of horses on a vet's list. No adverse findings have yet to be reported on the HIWU website from those samples.

Another element to the program is an anonymous whistleblower platform, allowing racing participants to submit tips on potential wrongdoing. Mosier said “a lot of incoming information” already has been received.

For her part, Lazarus referenced how challenging this Triple Crown season has been for racing with the spike in fatalities at Churchill Downs and three fatal injuries sustained during undercard races on Kentucky Derby and Preakness days.

“The silver lining, to the extent there is one in all of this, is that we now have the infrastructure to address these problems long term,” Lazarus said.

“One of the things that is really different about HISA, and I hope it will be transformational, is that we do have the ability to collect so much data,” she said. “And I think it's that data, that information, if we organize it properly and look at it with the right experts, it's going to give us information that allows us to respond accordingly.”

Lazarus realizes HISA still has many skeptics.

“I know some of you may not yet be convinced that it's going to be a panacea or a big game changer, but I can tell you that it is, and we are really lucky to have the Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit running it,” she said. “The efficiencies, the insights, the professionalism from where I sit have really been exceptional, and I think  you'll be interested in the coming weeks and months, hopefully, in the outcomes.”

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