The National Steeplechase Association’s Steeplechase Safety Committee has unanimously endorsed a decision to eliminate the final fence or fences for hurdle races at Saratoga Race Course, Parx Racing, and Belmont Park this summer.
The move was recommended by Dr. Scott Palmer, equine director of the New York State Gaming Commission, to mitigate incidents late in races when horses begin to tire. His suggestion was implemented at Belmont Park last fall and was followed at Parx Racing on July 12.
The final fence will not be jumped at Saratoga this summer, and the final two fences will be eliminated at Belmont for two races on Sept. 22. The final fence also will not be jumped in two hurdle races at Parx on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
“The Safety Committee had a vigorous, thorough, and highly respectful discussion of the change in a phone conference on Thursday,” said Dr. Reynolds Cowles, the committee’s chair. “At the conclusion of our discussion, the sentiment was unanimous to follow Dr. Palmer’s recommendation through the summer racing at flat tracks.
“While questions were raised about whether the character of the races is changed with long runs to the finish line, the committee believed that the overriding concerns were the safety of horses and consistency for all jump races this summer,” Dr. Cowles said.
With the final fence removed at Saratoga and Parx, the run from the last fence to the finish line is approximately three furlongs; at Belmont Park, the concluding run is five furlongs.