08/04/2017 4:06PM

Fatalities plague Spa meet

Coglianese Photos
Munjaz was euthanized Thursday after suffering an injury to his left rear leg in the Birdstone Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Kiaran McLaughlin won two races on Friday’s card at Saratoga, giving the veteran trainer a brief reprieve from what has been a difficult week.

In a 36-hour span, McLaughlin had two horses suffer fatal injuries here. In Thursday’s $100,000 Birdstone Stakes, Munjaz was pulled up on the second turn and was later euthanized with an injury to his left rear leg. On Wednesday, the 3-year-old Marshall Plan came out of a half-mile workout over the main track with an injury that resulted in him having to be euthanized.

Munjaz was one of two horses who suffered a fatal injury during the races Thursday at Saratoga. Fall Colors, a steeplechase horse, fell over the second fence of the Mrs. Ogden Phipps Stakes and died on the track.

There have been eight fatalities at Saratoga since July 28, four that occurred during a race and four during training. There were two fatalities at Saratoga before the meet began, one of those due to cardiovascular collapse. One of the racing fatalities, Brooklyn Major on July 31, was also the result of a cardiovascular collapse.

McLaughlin, like all of his colleagues, track officials, and regulators, are hard pressed to figure out what, if anything, is causing the recent spate of fatalities. Horsemen noted that the track was quite deep during the first 10 days of the meet.

“They tried new material to make it safer and better,” McLaughlin said. “You don’t know if it could be the depth of it, horses struggling at times. I know that everyone is trying to do the right thing.”

Mick Peterson, the executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, is an adviser to Glen Kozak, the New York Racing Association’s vice president of racing surfaces. Peterson said reviews of moisture content, the cushion depth, as well as the machines used to work on the track are being done by him and Kozak to see if anything is out of the ordinary.

“We’ll redo the premeet inspections to make sure the measurements were what we saw before the meet started, which looked fine,” Peterson said. “Glen’s got his guys combing through the books to make sure the [harrow] settings are the same as last year. The worst-case scenarios are when you overreact.”

McLaughlin on Friday worked two horses over the Oklahoma dirt surface, something he rarely does during the meet. McLaughlin said that one reason he did that was because he also had a horse working on the Oklahoma turf course. But he didn’t discount the notion that the two fatalities played a part in his decision to not work on the main track.

“Maybe,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the breakdowns “hit me because I don’t have it happen very often. So, just a little unlucky, and I am certainly not going to point any fingers. I just have to pray and hope we get through this weekend, myself and everyone else.”

McLaughlin wasn’t the only trainer who moved works to the Oklahoma track. Todd Pletcher worked 18 horses on the Oklahoma dirt course Friday, none on the main track.

“Right now, I’m just more comfortable working on the training track. It seems like the horses that are working on it are coming back well,” Pletcher said. “We’ll keep it like that for the short term anyways.”

Pletcher said he hasn’t had any issues, “but we keep seeing other issues out there. I know they’re still trying to fine-tune it a little bit.”

The New York State Gaming Commission will conduct investigations into each of the fatalities.

“There is often no single common cause among the incidents that unfortunately result in equine fatalities, but instead, a blend of factors that require comprehensive evaluation,” Scott Palmer, the New York State Equine Medical Director, said in a statement. “If our investigations find commonalities among the incidents that require changes in protocol on and off the track, we will make necessary changes.”