SARATOGA SPRINGS – The skies were clear and the temperature a comfortable 60 degrees last Saturday when Travelin’ Soldier suffered an injury training at Saratoga. Returning to the barn lame, X-rays were ordered and revealed a fractured leg. The horse was euthanized and marked the 17th equine death at the Spa this summer – the largest number in any one summer meet dating back to when records started being kept on such things in 2009, according to datany.com, which publishes reports regarding equine accidents and deaths.
There doesn’t appear to be any definitive pattern, weather-related or otherwise, to the 17 equine deaths at Saratoga this year, which are pretty evenly distributed among horses in the act of training and those racing.
The highest previous death total during the summer meet at Saratoga was 16 – which occurred in both 2016 and in 2012, followed by 15 horse deaths in 2015. The lowest was nine, which occurred in 2011. The nine-year total at Saratoga Race Course, to date, numbers 121 equine fatalities. An additional 29 have occurred during that same period at the harness track.
Quick to respond this week were the New York State Gaming Commission, The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) with an announcement that additional equine health and safety measures will be immediately implemented at Saratoga Race Course.
The actions will include increased regulatory veterinary presence at the track during training hours, state-of-the-art monitoring of horses, and comprehensive trainer education intended to share scientific findings of the types of injuries that occur at state Thoroughbred racetracks. Risk and protective factors that can help prevent injury will also be part of that trainer education.
“Our goal is to reduce the number of racehorse deaths and injuries to zero, and we have taken many productive steps toward reaching that goal over the past four years,” said New York State Equine Medical Director Scott E. Palmer, in a statement. “The Commission, as it does with every equine fatality on the grounds of a track in New York State, is actively investigating the circumstances of each incident at Saratoga Race Course.”
Track surfaces, individual horse risk factors, exercise history and past performances will be closely scrutinized, Palmer added. “Pending the findings of this investigation, we will do whatever is necessary to prevent such injuries in the future.”
Over the past four years, NYRA has implemented reforms and made significant investments to improve track surface conditions and upgrade equipment, provide vets with more authority to monitor thoroughbred health, and establish committees to oversee safety measures, said NYRA Safety Steward Hugh Gallagher.
The number of catastrophic injuries during races occurring on NYRA tracks has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since 2013 as a result of those reforms, Gallagher said. “We remain focused on continuously improving the safety of our racing operations. To that end, we are exploring the possibility of opening the main track for training to horsemen earlier in the year.”
It was also noted that NYRA’s catastrophic injury rate vs. the Jockey Club National Average – which was above the industry average in 2012 - has since dropped, and remains below the industry average, according to the latest reports in 2016.
The Commission and its partners will discuss ongoing aftercare initiatives 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29 at Empire State College, 111 West Ave. The event is open to the public and will provide horse trainers, owners, connections and the public the opportunity to learn about the importance of retiring a horse before it suffers an injury. The many options for retirement and aftercare in New York will also be discussed.