Several horse deaths at Saratoga Race Course are placing pressure on the entities that oversee thoroughbred racing in New York to prevent injuries among equine athletes. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports on new steps being implemented ahead of the season’s biggest race.
There have been 17 horse deaths at Saratoga Race Course this season.
For many, zero is the only acceptable number.
Pat Batuello, who runs the website Horseracing Wrongs, will be protesting the deaths outside Saratoga Race Course this weekend.
“How do we justify animals suffering, being abused and dying for two dollar bets in 21st Century America?” asked Batuello.
As the calls to prevent horse deaths increase, state agencies that oversee thoroughbred racing are rolling out new health and safety measures ahead of Travers Day. There are less than two weeks left in the Saratoga meet.
The New York State Gaming Commission, New York Racing Association, and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association are putting in place measures including having more veterinarians at the track during training hours, state-of-the-art monitoring, and education efforts for trainers, owners, and vets.
Rick Violette, a NYRA board member and head of the New York Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association, says the new initiatives are not necessarily a reaction to the current meet.
“It’s a general reaction to…continued reaction to trying to continue to do as many things that we can to protect the horse and rider,” said Violette.
NYRA points out the catastrophic injury rate for its tracks at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, have been lower than the national average since 2013.
Since 2012, when NYRA’s average was above the national average, the organization has enacted a number of regulatory reforms and invested $56 million to improve the racetracks and backstretch facilities.
Other New York state actions since 2013 have included required documentation of drugs administered and fatal injuries, new standard protocols on horses suffering those injuries, and regular meetings of an Equine Safety Review Board.
Others are taking action at the federal level.
Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko, who represents Saratoga Springs, has partnered with Kentucky Republican Andy Barr on the Horse Racing Integrity Act.
The bill, which Tonko says is gathering sponsors, is intended to stop illegal doping and would set up a universal system of rules for all 50 states to increase safety.
At the heart of the bill is the intention to respect the equine athlete, says Tonko.
“I think it’s important for us to have an independent flare to a commission that is established that’s universal: it affects all 50 states, so there’s standardization. And as you bring horses across state lines, to these various stakes races, it’s important that the same standards be met,” said Tonko.