Review of Saratoga horse deaths last year finds no definitive cause. Rainfall could have been one

FILE - Epicenter, left, with jockey Joel Rosario, wins the Jim Dandy Stakes horse race at Saratoga Race Course, July 30, 2022, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority in a report released Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, said a multitude of risk factors played into the 13 racing or training deaths of Thoroughbreds during the 2023 season at the track in upstate New York. Another horse died in a barn stall accident. (Skip Dickstein/The Albany Times Union via AP, File)


A review of 14 horse deaths at Saratoga Race Course last summer found no definitive cause of why they happened, saying rainfall “could not be overlooked” as a factor.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, in a report released Monday, said a multitude of risk factors played into the 13 racing or training deaths of thoroughbreds during the 2023 season at the track in upstate New York. Another horse died in a barn stall accident.

HISA’s investigation found that rainfall of more than 11 inches, compared with less than 9 inches in 2021 and less than 8 last year, could have played a role. 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.

An analysis of exercise history showed that those that participated in more frequent high-intensity workouts at longer distances were 2 1/2 times more likely to be injured.

“There are horse level risk factors that likely contributed to risk for injury,” Dr. Susan Stover wrote in the report after her analysis. “The factors observed are consistent with our knowledge of repetitive, overuse (fatigue) injuries in racehorses. Frequent high-intensity exercise (as observed in injured horses) that does not allow for recovery of exercise-induced microdamage contributes to the development of stress fractures and subchondral stress remodeling, which predispose horses to catastrophic injuries.”

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, for the first of back-to-back years.

“Continuously improving equine safety is a fundamental responsibility shared among racetrack operators, regulators, trainers, breeders and owners. HISA’s review of the 2023 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course enhances our understanding of the myriad factors that may contribute to injuries sustained during training or racing,” NYRA VP for Communications Pat McKenna said in a statement, saying the organization is embracing safety and technology to help vets and trainers identify underlying conditions and reduce the frequency of injuries.

“Ensuring the safety of horses and jockeys competing on the NYRA circuit is our highest priority, and we thank HISA for investing the time and resources to develop an informative review of the 2023 summer meet.”


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