EDITORIAL: Keep up pressure on race horse safety

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

The age-old question goes: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a noise?

It’s a stupid question. Of course it makes a noise.

So if a horse falls on a race track and no one is there to witness it, is there still a problem with race horses being injured and dying? What do you think?

Even though the fans weren’t in the stands at Saratoga this year because the covid crisis kept them away from the track, and even though the familiar band of protesters weren’t out front of the track this year to draw attention to equine deaths and injuries, it still happened.

And those who support more stringent protections for race horses — including New York Racing Association (NYRA) officials, legislators and animals rights advocates —  shouldn’t allow the lack of a spotlight on the problem this year to deter them from continuing to seek remedies.

According to the New York State Gaming Commission, which reports training and racing-related injuries and deaths at all New York race tracks, there were 42 incidents involving horses during this year’s annual Saratoga meet, which ran from July 16 to Sept. 7. That’s one more incident than the 2019 meet.

During this year’s meet, the Gaming Commission reported 14 total horse deaths, including 10 equine deaths related to racing or training and four deaths related to “other” causes.

The “other” causes are usually a medical condition, like colic or an infection.

The 2020 numbers are comparable to the 2019 meet, where a total of 11 horses died during the dates of the meet, eight in racing or training incidents and three related to other causes.

Some will say that racing injuries and deaths are inevitable and that the industry will never be able to eliminate them no matter what it does.

Some also might argue that the fact that numbers from year to year are comparable shows that the problem, at least, isn’t getting worse.

Officials will have to look closer into the causes of the injuries and deaths to determine if stricter safety measures being considered or enacted would have made a difference and how.

In November, NYRA was part of a coalition of six leading thoroughbred racing organizations that set upon a goal of establishing nationwide reforms to improve safety at tracks for horses and jockeys.

Some of the reforms are scheduled to take effect next year, while others are still in the implementation stage.

Just because the public wasn’t present to witness the deaths and injuries at Saratoga this year doesn’t mean the problems with racing safety have gone away.

It just means advocates for better conditions at race tracks need to make even more noise to get their voices heard.

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