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Editorial: Track deaths. Can more be done?

Editorial: Track deaths. Can more be done?

5 horses have died at the track so far for familiar reasons
Editorial: Track deaths. Can more be done?
Jockeys race the Amsterdam Grade II at the Saratoga Race Course on July 29, 2017.
Photographer: Erica Miller

Every year, they come with the same responses to the problem.

And every year, it seems to happen just as often, slightly more or less, than the year before.

We’re talking about the disturbing number of horse deaths and injuries at the Saratoga race track.

So far this year, seven horses have died at Saratoga, either in training or in races, including five during the current meet. Four of the horses died during the first week of the new racing season, and another died Monday.

Of the two deaths attributed to racing, Angels Seven pulled up lame on Friday with a fractured leg and was euthanized on the track. On Monday, Brooklyn Major collapsed after the race and died. Wantztbwicked, Positive Waves and Howard Beach all died during training exercises since the meet started, while Queen B and Lakalas died in training at the track earlier this year.

Last year, 15 horses died at the track, and the average number of deaths over the past eight years is about 13.5.

That might not seem like a large number, considering the number of horses that race and train at the track each season. But think about the actual number, presumably expensive and well-cared-for horses, dying in such a short time doing what all the other horses do.

Are 12 or 13 or 15 deaths each season the cost of doing business for people to enjoy this sport? Or can more be done to reduce or eliminate all but the most freak accidents?

Each year, we hear the same answers from the racing industry. They’re doing more to reduce the influence of drugs in the sport that allow the horses to compete while injured. They’re doing more monitoring. The horses, they say, are well cared for overall.

Yet despite all the precautions they say they’re taking, they can’t seem to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from year to year. So maybe what they’re doing isn’t effective enough.

Horseracing Wrongs, an animal rights group that routinely protests at the track, attributes the deaths to a number of factors, including racing horses before they’re fully mature, keeping the horses in confined spaces for long hours at a time, the amount of legal and illegal drugs that horses receive to keep them running, and the whipping the horses receive from jockeys to make them run faster.

If the industry cares so much about the welfare of the animals, maybe it needs to take these factors more heavily into consideration.

Does the state or the newly rejuvenated New York Racing Association need to step in with more regulations and more monitoring? Maybe stepped up enforcement and fines — this is about money, after all — will encourage more vigilance and care.

To its credit, the state Gaming Commission doesn’t keep the deaths and injuries a secret. In fact, it publishes an online database that’s updated almost in real time of the equine-related deaths, injuries and incidents.

Only by continuing to shine the light on the problem will any progress be made in solving it.  Let’s hope, for the horses’ sake, that continued attention to the issue generates more than the same old tired responses.

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