Saratoga: Recent Spate Of Equine Fatalities Bring Safety Into Spotlight Once Again

by | 08.03.2017 | 11:24am
Saratoga Race Course

Equine safety is once again in the spotlight at Saratoga after a recent spate of injuries and fatalities at the facility.

The Daily Gazette reports that there have been seven fatalities thus far – two while racing and five during morning training hours. According to the Gazette, the fatalities include the horse Angel Seven, who was injured while racing on the turf course Friday; Brooklyn Major, who collapsed after the ninth race on Monday of a suspected heart attack; Howard Beach and Positive Waves, who broke down during training hours on the main track, and Lakalas, who was fatally injured on the Oklahoma training track at the end of May.

The other fatalities were Queen B, who hurt her right hind leg on the Oklahoma training track on July 6 and was later euthanized, and Wanztbwicked, who was injured July 22 on the main track.

NYRA officials have taken steps to improve the safety and quality of the racing surface, adding clay and sand to the cushion of the main track.

“We take the health and welfare of our equine athletes and jockeys seriously,” NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna told the publication. “That's why we've made significant improvements and enhancements to the facility with an eye on improving the quality and safety of our racing operations.”

Other recent improvements include an upgraded drainage system, a widened Oklahoma training track to reduce traffic congestion and alarm systems to alert people of a loose horse.

“Frankly, everyone keeps them to the task,” said Rick Violette, trainer of Howard Beach. “It's not like everybody crosses their fingers and hopes they're doing it. Glen Kozak (NYRA's vice president of racing surfaces) loses sleep over this stuff, and in a lot of cases it's because we're waking him up.”

“There's never a good answer,” Violette continued. “There's never a satisfactory reason. It's not like we find a hole out there and say, ‘Ta-da!' Those are the things that are most frustrating, when you can't pinpoint and explain.”

“There's nothing you can say that's really comforting other than you're confident they're doing examinations, and, believe me, they're being held to the task,” Violette added.

Read more in the Daily Gazette

  • ben

    The mixture with sand and clay is always a troubled one. As soon as it rained the small particles will go down and the bigger parts will go up. Automatic result: an uneven track. The amount of horrowing will only fastening this process.

    Get a refurnished track with only 1 component. And 1 graded particle seize.

    Before returning to the track: a complete set of X rays, when the horse did have a minor fracture, splint or otherwise.

    • Scott

      I have been around the business for 40 years a trainer owner and i was a
      gallop boy in my younger days.I dislike of all these dead horses for
      profit,yes they say we can get a couple more starts out of this horse
      before he breaks down.they don’t care about the animal or humans
      sad I left this game 10 years ago because it made me sick at the
      inhumanity and lack of respect for life. if i took some of the trainers
      dogs and put them through the same aggressive training they would stop
      immediately and their children would have nightmares..the children that
      were at Sarataoga today watch a very sad and cruel death in the Mrs.
      Phipps S is this what she wishes to be known by …i think not. stop
      the whipping or whip your dog at home and lets see if you can sleep at
      night.changes must be made. we are a very cruel industry with no conscience

      • Kris T

        The horsemen don’t give a blank about the equine athlete anymore

        It’s about lining their pockets right this second and not focusing on how to save the industry tomorrow

        Who cares I guess. Look at what Penn Gaming and other racinos have done to the sport. Shameful to say the least.

        • greg

          You could not be more wrong, yes, there are 3-4 trainers (won’t call them horsemen) who I agree with you, however the bad thing majority lament daily the unsafe track and mgmts. refusal to spend the $$ needed to correct. Could trainers do more, probably, but they have owners paying $100+ a day for training and the majority won’t be ok if there are not enough entries to race for several days, tough spot for the real horsemen and women

      • Lehane

        Yes, stop the whipping.

      • Rebekah Lane

        Two stakes at Saratoga on Thursday, with fatal injuries in both. Munjaz was euthanized after running in the Birdstone.

      • billy

        Your last sentence…..boy is that the truth it reminds me of football and the next man up theory

  • Ida Lee

    I’m hoping the industry is doing everything it can to protect it’s athletes, both on training and racing days…..because one day, in one of our big races, nationally televised perhaps, we’re going to have a disaster …and many of our beloved equine stars, not to mention human stars, will be seriously hurt or killed and that will be the end of the sport….I’m especially fearful of rain-soaked tracks….ever since the great “Gorgeous George” Washington died on that muddy track in the Classic of 07, I’ve been afraid of muddy tracks….and that was with my beloved Curlin winning the race…so a race that should have been one of the happiest ever for me, turned out to be a nightmare I keep reliving….how often can that happen with a racing fan? …. If we’re going to build the fan base of our sport, we need o make the sport safer…it goes without saying…

    • Anna

      I agree. After watching George Washington break down at the Monmouth BC I quit racing for a few months. Horse racing is the only sport I watch and am a big fan. I own exrace horses and a couple when racing and know it can happen, but some are avoidable. Not all trainers make decisions where the horses and/of jockeys welfare is the deciding factor.
      There have been 2 incidents i big races that brought a lot of negative press to racing: Eight Belles and Barbaro.

      • Ida Lee

        Knowing that George was visiting our Country and broke down on a dirty muddy track away from home….when I saw that damn tarp and the ambulance, I just lost it…who knows how many people left the sport after that….Of course, then we lost Barbaro at the beginning of that year….and then Eight Belles in 08….I do believe things have gotten better…but of course it’s relative ….

      • Judy Gaddis

        and Ruffian

    • ben

      The only way is take that track at Saratoga out, and redisign it. Amongst some other measures.

      • Ida Lee

        ….you’re probably right ….I lost one of my all-time favorites Timber Reserve in 2010 at Saratoga….thought I would never look at another horse again….I came back….

  • gus stewart

    In each particular area, weather climate, certain track surfaces should be used. Again without uniformity across the country, these discussions have not happened to my knowledge. I for one think that things are going to happen in racing even in perfect track maintenance procedures. But del mar was certainly very slow for a few years in responding. If we had a governing body, commisionar who could be transparent to the public and address why thouroubred and horse racing in general, if done in a responsible way, acutually will save more equine lives then what happens away from the industry, ya think that may be a step in the right direction.just my thoughts..

    • Kenny Mayne

      Stupid ideas. Next time you feel like commenting, why don’t you just repeatedly bang your head into a wall until that feeling passes. All the best.

      • gus stewart

        Ur cimment should be heading into the atmosphere within a few hours i expect,, pluto is waiting for ur arrival

        • Hal & Dave, Lovers

          You tell him Gus – attaboy!!

      • Larry Sterne

        what ideas do u propose??????

    • Lehane

      Well said, Gus.

  • greg

    At Del Mar while fatalities are down career ending injuries are WAY UP, one trainer lost 3 horses over the weekend including 2 stakes horses, another lost almost 20%!!! of his stable in just over 2 weeks, and he had many horses. Trainers are afraid of losing stalls if they complain publicly, and I’ve heard the owner of Tatters to Riches may pull the horse as well as his other stakes horse Itsinthepost and ship out of town as he’s afraid to lose the horse working out.

    • Bryan Langlois

      What types of injuries are occurring that you speak of? Soft tissue or fractures?

      • greg

        soft tissue primarily, right front ankles and knees, There have been at least eight sesamoid fractures, and plenty of high suspensories and tendons all in 2+ WEEKS

        • Bryan Langlois

          Thanks…was just curious as to what was being seen out there.

    • Ben van den Brink

      You wanne have dirt at Del Mar, this is what you got, everybody has warned them owners but the owners refused to listen, so did the horseman. Many more injuries and breakdowns will follow.

    • Charles Smith

      It’s horrilble to see the injuries and fatalities spike again, but it correlates to the instillation of a dirt track at DM. Compare the injury percentages at GGF, Arlington Park, Turfway and Woodbine to DM and Saratoga……synthetic tracks vs dirt.

  • Yet another

    Another day and another horse pulling up and being vanned off in the $100k 1 3/4 dirt stks race

  • disqus_VDMOBiuPfw

    Adding to the cushion made it more dangerous. Even the word “cushion” hints at why.

    There’s more margin for soft pockets and the horses sink into the dirt further. Try running on a beach (the dry part), it’s a great place to twist your ankle.

    This thing about deeper cushion being safer was brought about by political pressure by anti horse racing activists, not by soils engineers. Why wasn’t the way they used to do it good enough? I suspect there were far fewer fatalities in the 70’s, 60’s, 50’s, 40’s and 30’s.

  • Soundness is the elephant in the room in Thoroughbred racing and anybody who minimizes it is in denial. Yes, from time to time, certain racing surfaces do prove troublesome. But blaming issues of soundness on a particular surface is only part of the issue and a temporary phenomenon. If sales companies, breeders, consignors and veterinarians do not address this elephant, PETA and other such organizations are going to be successful in sending us all packing just like the real elephants’ removal from the circus caused the collapse of the big tent.

    • Noelle

      I upvoted your comment and am replying only to state my STRONG agreement with everything you’ve written. Racetracks can make all available improvements to the surface, and too many horses will still break down. Few, maybe none, of today’s American horses could stand up to Citation’s schedule and finish their careers as healthy as he did.

      • whirlaway

        Citation, Whirlaway, Round Table, Kelso, Carry Back, Gallorette and many more.

        • Helen Valderhaug

          Not to mention Seabisquit he was built like a little tank.

          • whirlaway

            Why did he slip my mind, I love him in fact what fan would not love Seabiscuit.

    • lastromntribune

      ” the circus “….had to laugh, I have been calling the racing game the traveling circus for decades……but your point is well taken and correct

    • Gus Stewart

      I thought Vic Stauffer was the elephant in the room.

      • Greg J.

        Making jokes? Unreal.

        • gus stewart

          Pr report is working on eliminating comments from a commenter on blog,, i didnt not write that response to barrys comment. Of course this could be him saying he is greg j. Whst a pow this person is.

          • Greg J.

            Don’t get your comment, explain including my name?

    • peggy conroy

      Horses are a constantly moving critter, as we all know. Two times around the track then a zip every now and then is not really what their system has evolved to endure. Left to roam in a sizeable pasture they move miles a day which helps keep them sound. Of course the adaptation to specialized racing surfaces along with drugs is part of the picture. However, racing off a facility like Fair Hill or the farm is not possible for most people.
      Perhaps we should look at the trainers who have very low breakdown numbers to find answers?

  • whirlaway

    This has nothing to do with the surface but there was a fatality yesterday in the hurdle stakes 1st race on the card. I am not a jump fan and if others are fans I understand I just no longer enjoy it nor do I watch it. Yesterday I was coming in the house from taking my dog out and glanced at the TV to see the accident at the second fence. It was not good but I guess it could have been worse as the mare was in the lead with others around her and was struck by other horses while she was down. It was fortunate only one horse was lost but it was one of those
    terrible moments that will linger. I just looked for a movie and really did not watch racing yesterday.

    • Judy Gaddis

      I won’t watch it either. Never will. Seeing The Grand National ONCE cured me of ever being interested………………

      • whirlaway

        I can’t believe I glanced as I went by my big tv just as they went over the 2nd jump it
        ruined my entire day very ugly. So sorry for the mare.

  • Patricia Coughlin

    TWO MORE DEAD at Saratoga August 3, 2017 – Fall Colors and
    Munjaz. May you truly be at peace. It’s never a good day at the track.

    In response to disqus VDMOBiuPfw comment about the track, the
    track improvements were made based upon the NY Equine Safety Review: 2014
    Report on the 2014 Saratoga Race Course Meet Racing & Training Fatalities,
    not the racing activists. According to this report, the track changes were
    based on NYRA internal soil analysis and a mechanical tester, along with the
    Director of the Univ of Maine Ractrack Testing Lab who performs soil analysis
    at the start of each meet. So if NYRA can’t get it right – then maybe they shouldn’t be in the racing “business”.
    But then again, it’s not about the track
    or any other smoke and mirror excuses the industry tries to throw at the
    public. Let’s talk drugs and doping as it fills 15 pages of the NY State Gaming
    Commissions Rules & Regulations. How about pre-existing conditions / injuries
    and being forced to run as documented in the 2014 Report and Aqueduct 2011-2012
    Report of Equine Fatalities. How about the effects of furosemide that probably
    all horses have injected with on race day, dehydration, extreme heat and
    exhaustion. Because these couldn’t have
    anything to do with fatal collapses. How about the simple fact that many are 2-3
    year olds whose limbs are not fully developed yet are pushed and whipped until
    they just can’t give anymore.

    I love how this same report exclaims there was a 33% decrease in total fatalities during the 2015
    meet when compared to the 2014. More smoke and mirrors because the truth also
    resides in the training and breeding practices that perpetuate the continuance
    of this crime. This is a FOR PROFIT industry that exploits the thoroughbred without
    regard for their welfare. They’ll use them up and split them out, a great many
    that will end up at slaughter. The only thing I can agree on is it’s in crisis
    thanks to those who speak up for the horses.

    • JustJoe

      Patty, you are really nuts!

      A higher percentage of horses die on farms and in the wild from natural activities.

      Go pet your cat!

      • Patricia Coughlin

        Naming calling just shows lack of character. Go look at what was cited before you comment. We’re discussing horseracing. If the other areas are on your radar, have at it.

        • JustJoe

          Patty, you are name calling everyone. Your post has no facts only feelings. I wish NYRA would sue you for slander.

          • John Cochran , Esq.

            I’m the chief attorney for the NYRA. Expect to be served Patty.

      • Helen Valderhaug

        Is she a card carrying member of PETA?

    • Hamish

      Well said.

  • Michael Castellano

    Clearly Barry Irwin is right. Lack of soundness is the number one cause of breakdowns, and it is epidemic in its severity. I have noticed, however, that fatalities seem to be highest at the beginning of meets. Why that is, I am open to a number of factors, some of which might actually relate in part to track conditions, but at the same time, you can never eliminate the issue of unsoundness as a contributor. Such as the meet gradually exposes the most unsound horses first in the meet, and then there are less because the most unsound ones have already been exposed.

  • The examining veterinarians are inexperienced.

  • Guest

    Evolution designed horses to run fast for no more than 1/4 mile to escape from predators. We race tbs an average of 3/4 mile, so 3x the distance they were evolved to run. They will break down and there is nothing short of not racing, that will prevent it. The EID is helpful in trying to determine which horses are at greatest risk so we can keep the fatality statistic as low as possible. I doubt that it will ever be 0.

    You can blame the breeders, consignors, trainers, vets, etc until the cows come home but the fact is, horses are not designed to run as far as we race them.

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