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Review of horse deaths at Saratoga finds rain could have played role

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Rain totals during the 2023 Saratoga Race Course season could have played a role in the number of horse deaths at the meet, according to a Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority review.

The HISA findings, released Monday morning, said available data — including a rainfall total of 11.03 inches during the 2023 meet, up from 7.76 inches a year before — “suggests that the rainfall could have played a role in the increased risk of fatal injury” during the summer racing season. The report concluded that a “multitude of risk factors … likely contributed to the fatalities,” though.

There were 14 horse deaths in the 2023 meet, eight of them listed as racing deaths, according to the state gaming commission. The weather during the 40-day meet was rainy enough to force 65 races off the turf.

The HISA analysis of the dead horses’ exercise histories, the organization said, revealed that “horses having participated in more frequent high-intensity exercise and furlongs were 2.5 times more likely than the control group to be injured.” The group says it’s developed data analytics to “flag horses at potential risk for injury to assist stakeholders in identifying horses that warrant further evaluation” in the hopes that there will be fewer injuries going forward.

The federal agency now in charge of overseeing the sport did not uncover any rules violations that contributed to the fatalities, 12 of which came from musculoskeletal injuries.

Three of the 11 horses that suffered fatal fractures were given a corticosteroid injection in the affected joint within 30 days of racing. HISA has requested a rule change, currently under review by the Federal Trade Commission, to ban such injections into a horse’s fetlock joint 30 days before a race.

The deaths at Saratoga last year come as the industry is grappling with internal and external criticism and as stakeholders look into possible solutions to cut down on racing fatalities. HISA recently commissioned the New York Racing Association to spearhead a racetrack surface study, which could yield data and information about the impacts of weather and potentially lead to more synthetic tracks being used around the U.S.

This HISA study’s conclusion comes months before Saratoga hosts the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.

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