Turf Paradise had two catastrophic breakdowns on Jan. 8 – the second and third in a span of 24 races – but Vince Francia, the Phoenix, Ariz., track's general manager, said there is no evidence track condition was a factor in the two latest fatalities.
Francia is pushing for the tightening of an existing rule that permits horses “eased” in their most recent start – provided they finished within 35 lengths of the winner – to run back without going on the stewards list or requiring a workout.
One of the horses fatally injured Jan. 8 was eased in its last start, beaten 17 lengths, according to the Equibase chart.
Turf Paradise did not run its scheduled programs on Jan. 1 and 2 because of track conditions and cancelled the remainder of its Jan. 3 card after a fatal breakdown in the day's first race.
Francia elected to cancel Jan. 1-2 after walking the dirt track with members of the jockey colony. “Ninety percent of it was okay,” he said, “but now and then we would run into a soft spot (created when the track was sealed on Dec. 31 during a rainstorm).”
Jockeys walked the surface again with Francia on Jan 3 and said the track was safe, but Francia said it was his decision to cancel the remainder of the program after the 3-year-old filly Running for Annie broke down and fell in the stretch of the opener. Jockey Jake Barton escaped injury. Another horse lost its rider trying to avoid Barton, but neither that jockey nor horse suffered a serious injury.
“The horse stepped in to what appeared to be a soft spot and broke down,” Francia said of Running for Annie.
The Jan. 4 and 7 programs were conducted without incident, but two breakdowns marred the Jan. 8 race.
In the first race, the Quarter horse With Love Too broke down and fell after the wire and was euthanized. Jockey Enrique Garcia suffered bruised ribs. In the seventh race, Mydancingshadow, ridden by David Lopez, broke a foreleg and fell at the top of the stretch. Lopez was struck in the leg by a trailing horse. His agent, Mark Anderson, said Lopez had some bumps and bruises and would likely miss a couple of days.
Mydancingshadow, trained by Valorie Lund, was eased in the stretch of his last start on Dec. 20, a $3,000 claiming race at one mile. Mydancingshadow prompted the pace for six furlongs, but jockey Scott Stevens did not persevere in the final furlong when the horse was hopelessly beaten.
After Mydancingshadow broke down on Jan. 8, Francia went to the jockeys room to check on the condition of Lopez. “I spoke to Scott (Stevens), who had ridden this horse in its previous race, and Scott felt the horse was lame right after that race,” said Francia. “But because he didn't get beat 35 lengths he didn't have to work back.”
That is the rule Francia wants changed, placing on the stewards list any “eased” horse or one vanned off until it works a half mile in 52 seconds or less.
“Does that put a little burden on the trainer?” Francia said. “Yes. But safety is more important.”
There were no breakdowns on Turf Paradise's Jan. 9 program, though two horses were vanned off and three were eased, according to Equibase.
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