The five-day period beginning the Thursday before the Travers has seen five fatalities during racing or training at Saratoga. Overall, racing fatalities exceed the total for last year’s meet by two, with seven occurring so far, and there’s a week of racing to go. There have also been four training fatalities (and two more at Belmont) compared with two during the entirety of last year’s meet.
The New York Racing Association has taken several major steps to lessen the occurrence of equine deaths. What they are not particularly good at, however, is communicating what they are doing, what has been effective and what has not been.
Dr. Scott Palmer, who headed up the landmark 2012 Report on Equine Safety, is now the Equine Medical Director for New York’s Gaming Commission. One of the improvements recommended by the Report is conducting necropsies on all catastrophically injured horses. What is not known – publicly, however – is what, if any, conclusions have been reached from the post-mortem reviews.
The most recent fatality happened during Monday’s first race. I saw the fall on TV, but fortunately missed the aftermath of the horse suffering on the track following what was said to be a broken neck. I then heard accounts of two people who were making their first visit to a race track. Needless to say, the experience was unsettling, with one couple leaving immediately. Another long-time fan and owner told me that seeing catastrophic breakdowns was causing her to think about never returning.
If NYRA and the Gaming Commission would be more forthcoming on what they have learned from studying catastrophic injuries it would neither lessen the trauma from watching a fatality, nor the horrible experience of those connected with the horse, from the owner to stable hands. It would, however, provide a measure of comfort to those who love the sport that New York is as concerned with these incidents as they are.