Officials Examining Horse Deaths at Saratoga

Eleven horses died during Saratoga's recent meet, compared with eight during the summer session last year.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Officials are conducting a probe into the relatively high number of equine deaths during the New York Racing Association's (NYRA) Saratoga Race Course meet.

The state's equine medical director, Scott E. Palmer, VMD, Dipl. ABVP, said in a written statement Aug. 29 that 11 horses died during the recent Saratoga meet, compared with eight during the entire summer session last year at the historic Saratoga Springs, New York, racetrack. Palmer said, however, equine safety has improved in New York.

"There will be challenges along the way. We are experiencing such a challenge during the 2014 Saratoga meet," he said.

The Saratoga meet ended Sept. 1.

The state's racing association is now operating as a state-controlled entity. One of the episodes that helped lead to a state takeover was a spike in the number of equine deaths during the 2012 winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack, located near New York City. Palmer declined to offer possible explanations for the increase in equine deaths this year, noting the probe his office is now conducting: "Until that investigation is complete, it would be inappropriate to opine or make any final statements about definitive cause of injury," he said in the statement.

The Saratoga meet has included two fatalities during races and three during training sessions, Palmer said, with all five involving musculoskeletal fractures of the horses' lower limbs. The other deaths this summer at Saratoga have included cervical and spinal injuries, as well as three instances of sudden death, he said. He noted such episodes "cannot be prevented by interventions designed for musculoskeletal injury prevention."

Palmer said the New York State Gaming Commission (NYSGC) and NYRA are considering different options to address cervical and spinal injuries. They include new designs at entry and exit ramps on the backstretch, and improvements to the hurdles in steeplechase races.

Other steps being taken include use of new techniques to help vets better detect cardiac arrhythmias when a horse collapses.

Palmer said the equine deaths are being investigated by the Equine Safety Review Board, whose members include Palmer and other staff of the NYSGC, which regulates the industry, along with The Jockey Club, Cornell University, NYRA, and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

"As stewards of the racehorses, we have a duty to do all that we can to honor and protect these incredible athletes," Palmer said.

Originally published on BloodHorse.com.

About the Author

Tom Precious

Tom Precious also writes for The Blood-Horse, sister magazine to The Horse.

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