JC / Railbird

Farewell, Detention Barns

Saratoga detention barns, August 2005

There’ll be more stalls available at Saratoga this summer, and fewer complaints from horsemen year-round. NYRA announced today that, five years after the detention barn opened, the secure area has been closed, to be replaced by random out-of-competition testing and other security measures.

Trainer Rick Violette, president of the NY Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, approved of the policy change, telling the Daily Racing Form:

“It’ll be more horse-friendly without sacrificing the highest level of integrity in the business.”

“Horse-friendly” is definitely one thing that can’t be said about detention.

In 2005, when I worked on the Saratoga backstretch, I was paid an extra $30 a day for horse-sitting in the barn. Working detention added a decent sum to my weekly pay; trainers always needed the help. But there was a jittery boredom to the assignment, a tediousness too often only broken when a horse panicked in the unfamiliar surroundings. It was hot and bright in detention, the humid air fraught with nerves. It didn’t take much for a horse to freak out, to turn into a sweating, quivering, dangerous mess. I remember once standing uncertainly in front of a stall, shank in hand, as a 3-year-old colt wildly kicked and bucked and a security guard shrieked behind me, “Get it under control!”

That horse left his race in the barn, and he wouldn’t be the only one to do so.

7/15/10 Addendum: Another benefit to ending detention? Says @superterrific:

now let’s get Zenyatta out here!

Come east, big mare. Forget the Clement Hirsch, consider the Personal Ensign. John Pricci is thinking along similar lines: “But now, the Personal Ensign at 10 furlongs and at scale weights at meet’s end eliminates any excuse …


Your assessment of the detention barn is on-point and how apropos to provide actual examples. The barn provided the illusion of integrity while doing nothing to protect the public’s two bucks. The whole five year period was a huge exercise in futility.

Posted by gregory on July 15, 2010 @ 4:16 am

“Zenyatta” was the first thing to come to my mind when I heard the news. The second, of course, was “Oh thank god, I don’t have to sit in the detention barn all day.”

Posted by Natalie Keller Reinert on July 15, 2010 @ 4:56 pm

The detention barn, so aptly named. It reminded me of school detention, inspiring the same listless, yet pent-up feelings. Funny, though, how strong my memories are of those days.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it did nothing, but it was a clumsy effort best abandoned.

Posted by Jessica on July 16, 2010 @ 7:36 pm