08/31/2016 12:50PM

Analysis of Saratoga tracks reveals no reason for recent fatalities

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A review of the racing and training surfaces at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in the wake of 10 exercise-related musculoskeletal fatalities so far during the meet meet has not unearthed any obvious problems with the tracks, according to the New York State Gaming Commission.

Robert Williams, the executive director of the commission, said at a meeting Tuesday that Saratoga’s operator, the New York Racing Association, had recently brought in Mick Peterson, a racing-surface expert based at the University of Maine, to examine the tracks. The review found that the “2016 main-track surface meets standards consistent with previous years,” Williams said.

The exercise-related fatalities were concentrated in the first half of the meet, which began in late July. In addition to the 10 deaths that were musculoskeletal in nature, two horses have died of cardiac events following exercise, another died of a virus, and another as a result of a fall, bringing the total number of deaths at the meet to 14. The meet closes Monday.

Equine experts consistently caution that racing and training fatalities involve a number of factors. In addition, clusters of racing fatalities often lead to increased scrutiny of single factors that might not draw attention if the fatalities are spread out over a longer period of time.

Williams said at the Tuesday meeting that the fatalities this year compare with 13 total fatalities during the 2015 Saratoga meet and 14 in 2014.

Rick Violette, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said on Wednesday that horsemen remain cautious about the condition of the main track at Saratoga, considering the highly variable weather conditions in upstate New York during the summer.

“It’s such a moving target,” Violette said. “Not enough rain, too much rain. It changes day to day. We are certainly encouraging a thorough review throughout the meet because the track is almost a living thing. The conditions change day to day.”

Williams said the gambling commission’s Equine Safety Review Board is reviewing the deaths this year and expects to release a report on its findings following the Saratoga meet. By statute, the review board investigates each death, Williams said.