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Editorial: Horse safety measures: What took so long?

Editorial: Horse safety measures: What took so long?

They've known about this problem for years
Editorial: Horse safety measures: What took so long?
Sarah Hinchliffe, assistant examining veterinarian for NYRA, watches horses from the eighth race Aug. 2.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

It’s great that the organizations in charge of New York’s thoroughbred racing industry are taking greater steps to protect the horses.

But if they were really so concerned, then why did it take the deaths of 17 horses at Saratoga this year for them to react?

On Monday, the state Gaming Commission, New York Racing Association and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association jointly announced that they were initiating new actions at Saratoga Race Course to reduce equine deaths and injuries.

So far during this year’s annual Saratoga meet, 15 horses have died during training or racing. Two others died at the course this year prior to the meet, for a total of 17.

During the last race on Thursday, Sayonara Rose tossed her rider and broke her front left leg, forcing veterinarians to euthanize her on the track. On Saturday, Travelin Soldier became the latest casualty, breaking his right rear leg during a training exercise, forcing vets to also euthanize him.

That apparently was the final straw for the racing organizations, which announced new measures Monday to protect the animals, including increasing the veterinary presence at the track during training hours, implementing state-of-the-art monitoring of horses, and initiating comprehensive trainer education on the latest research to reduce the risk of injury and death.

“Our goal is to reduce the number of racehorse deaths and injuries to zero,” said the New York State Equine Medical director.

Well, if that were true, then why did it take so long to enact stronger measures?

It’s not like this all came as a big surprise.

In an average year, 13.5 horses die during training or racing during the six-week Saratoga meet. This year, however, started off at an alarming pace, with four horses dying in the first week and another five the second week.

The relatively high number of deaths so quickly garnered a lot of press. And animal rights advocates, including Horseracing Wrongs, have visibly and regularly protested outside the gates all season to raise awareness.

Yet officials waited until the meet was two-thirds over and 15 horses had died to initiate urgent safety measures?

It shouldn’t have taken the deaths of 15 horses in four weeks to sound the alarms. It shouldn’t have taken even one death. Given the number of deaths over the years, these safety measures should have been in place long before now.

It’s true, NYRA and the other organizations supporting the industry have taken steps to improve safety, including better monitoring, improving track conditions and establishing committees to oversee safety measures. That’s resulted, according to NYRA, in a 50 percent reduction in the number of catastrophic injuries during races since 2013.

But clearly, as evidenced by Monday’s announcement, they weren’t doing all they could. Even with these changes, they might still not be doing enough.

Maybe it took a spike in the number of deaths to get their full attention. Maybe it took a spike in public awareness and outrage.

Whatever it took, the changes are welcome.

But why did they take so long?

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