Updated on 03/12/2013 4:38PM

Laurel Park: Breakdown spate has Maryland commission seeking reasons

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Horses at Laurel Park in Maryland have been suffering catastrophic injuries this year at a greater rate than the well-publicized series of breakdowns at Aqueduct’s inner-track meeting in 2011-12, according to state racing officials.

At least 17 horses have been euthanized since the meet began Jan. 1, representatives of racetracks and horsemen said. Although that is fewer than the 21 horses who broke down during Aqueduct’s 2011-12 meet, the breakdowns at Laurel have occurred over a nine-week period rather than the 15-week period in New York, and Laurel has been racing three or four days a week rather than Aqueduct’s five-day weeks during 2011-12.

“This is not a freak occurrence,” said Alan Foreman, a Maryland attorney who represents the state horsemen’s group and who was one of four members of a task force that examined the Aqueduct deaths last year. “It’s alarming, and everyone needs to understand that this is an alarming situation that needs to be rectified immediately.”

Tom Chuckas, the president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns and operates Laurel and Pimlico, said the track has struggled to find a cause. “I’ve spoken to owners, trainers, and jockeys, and nobody’s got an answer right now,” Chuckas said.

On Monday, the Safety and Welfare Committee of the Maryland Racing Commission released a report examining 10 breakdowns at Laurel that occurred over a five-week period from Jan. 9 to Feb. 15. The four-page report recommended that the state conduct necropsies on all horses who are euthanized and that state veterinarians comply with guidelines developed by a national policy group on conducting pre-race examinations.

The report did not identify a single factor that could account for the rise in catastrophic injuries. According to equine safety officials who study breakdowns, catastrophic injuries have many causes so accurately identifying a single factor to explain even a small set of breakdowns is considered highly unlikely.

According to the report, six of the 10 breakdowns occurred in $5,000 claiming races, the cheapest at the track. In total, nine occurred in races for claiming horses, including a $7,500 starter allowance. The other occurred in a stakes race.

Over the past several years, subsidies from state casinos have pushed up purses at Maryland racetracks, especially in claiming races. Subsidies to purses in all racing states have become a cause for concern to many racing officials and animal-welfare advocates because of the potential to create incentives for horsemen to run unsound horses.

In the report examining the New York deaths, the task force was critical of high purse levels in Aqueduct claiming races, which were raised because of new subsidies from slot machines. The Aqueduct claiming purses were sometimes five times the claiming price. At Laurel, purses for $5,000 claiming races this year were $15,000. A veterinary group has cautioned tracks to limit purses in claiming races to two times the claiming price.

Earlier this year, Maryland’s horsemen petitioned the racing commission to adopt rules that would prohibit a horse from dropping in class after a claim. The rule would also allow a claimed horse who has not run in a race for 180 days or longer to be exempt from being claimed in its first start back. The commission adopted the rule, but it needs to be approved by the state’s General Assembly.

Chuckas said that the MJC plans to push for an additional rule that would prohibit a horse from running within 30 days of a claim in any race with a claiming price that is less than 25 percent higher than the previous claiming price.

In addition, Chuckas said that the MJC has pledged to fund the necropsy program recommended by the report. He noted that the results of the necropsies would be forwarded to the commission for review, rather than the MJC.

According to racing officials, during all of 2012, 21 horses suffered catastrophic injuries at Maryland tracks. Only 10 horses suffered catastrophic injuries in 2011. The breakdowns at Laurel Park this year received little scrutiny outside the state’s relatively small racing community until the report Monday.

The deaths at Aqueduct last year led to heavy criticism of Aqueduct’s operator, the New York Racing Association, and played a factor in the passage of legislation allowing the state to take over the association’s board. A task force conducted a four-month investigation and prepared a report in excess of 200 pages to build an argument for the adoption of dozens of recommendations.

The horses who were euthanized at Aqueduct and Laurel all suffered injuries after racing on a dirt surface. Last week, the release of an analysis of racing-injury data showed that the catastrophic injury rate for racing on dirt was twice the rate of catastrophic injuries on artificial surfaces in 2012.

Foreman, who is leading an effort for states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast to adopt uniform medication rules and drug-testing policies, noted that current rules in Maryland allow horses to be treated with the diuretic furosemide and a suite of other anti-bleeding medications up to two hours before a race. All other racing jurisdictions prohibit any raceday treatments within four hours of a race, and Maryland is one of only three states that allow any medication other than furosemide to be administered on raceday.

Under the uniform rules, all raceday drugs other than furosemide would be prohibited, and Maryland’s two-hour rule would be changed to a four-hour rule. In addition, the new rules would prohibit the use of clenbuterol and several powerful anti-inflammatory drugs within 14 days of a race. The state is expected to adopt the uniform rules prior to the end of the year.

“In the meantime, Maryland racing needs to take a complete look at what it’s doing right now, and that needs to be done from top to bottom,” Foreman said

TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
I dont know what it is but every time theres a story about a horse breaking down the first thing people say is, oh it had to be drugs. for as long as I can remember, horses have been breaking down at every single track Ive ever been to since I was a kid. so I think people should realize that its just an unfortunate part of the game and NOT always drugs.
fuggedabodit More than 1 year ago
I apologize to all the honest trainers and vets out there. Let's say "crooked trainers", and "dishonest/greedy" vets.
fuggedabodit More than 1 year ago
Trainers, vets, and drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! When is this industry gonna learn.
avlamal More than 1 year ago
the problem with these medication rules it hurts field sizes and there4 the sport look at aqueduct with their great pursesit is inconceivable they cant fill races why the shippers cant ship in due to these oppressive medication rules the answer-relax the rules but go with the claiming rules which will discourage dropping horses below a price of a claim to discourage palming off hurt horses
James Smoot More than 1 year ago
If a horse has a problem it feels the pain/ the vet will see it or the horse will most likey not extend its self.when the pain is masked with medication /He could most likey break down.No Brainer
Mark Scheider More than 1 year ago
A couple of things here: Make a universal cut off age. Lets say for arguments sake when the horse is 6, he retires. I know that's not the end all but it is one thing that helps alleviate the catastrophic wear on a horse. Imagine us trying to run like a 17 year old when we're 40. It's not a level field. This is when antiinflammatories are used to keep the old timers chugging. It's unethical but common practice. This is never talked about....How about a mandated gap between races, lets say 3 weeks? There are things that can be done that would at the least help these animals but people get too hung up on draining the horse for every dollar that their welfare goes out the window.
Ivan More than 1 year ago
HELLO PEOPLE! Let's use OUR GOD GIVEN BRAINS and THINK! ---Can we all read ( and say AMEN!) what "SOROKA" and "tom" just wrote? READ IT AGAIN - it was FOOD for THE BRAIN ( and stop tripping on winterized tracks and all that stuff) - SOROKA- TOM - YOU GUYS ROCK- YOU TELL IT LIKE IT IS! - KICK THE CROOKS OUT!
mikey More than 1 year ago
Most of these every day horses need a break.They are tired and need a rest.Half of these horses are ready to be retired let alone race.
Tom More than 1 year ago
Same cast of characters that invaded aquaduct are now running at laurel. One trainer in particular Hugh Mcmahon was running a win rate of nearly 50% w/ 90% in the money. Some of the horses he claimed ran lifetime best at the age of 8 or 9 years old after 14 days in his barn. And we go on asking ourselves what is the reason when we know very well what the answer is. We cant attract new people to the game with crooks running the roost!
Charles Levy More than 1 year ago
Hugh Mcmahon is from LRL . Was a Asst to Scott Lake for yrs . Please piont me to the track that doesnt have crooks . Everyrace track is the same . What about Juan Vasquez DEL leading trainer he has 7 badtest on appeal . LRL owned by the biggest crook of them all . What has he done for MD racing . The place is a dump . It has the worst jockey colony on the Eastcoast . Big deal purses went up but the whole place is the same .
Jeremy Castro More than 1 year ago
well Charles if you like to judge people and act like you know everything why don't you start training and put yourselves in their shoes because of course its easy saying stuff about others how bout you go claim a horse and show how smart you are i bet ill see Charles Levy on the rulings book as well so don't come over here saying stuff about others and to let you know im 13 and i know very well about horses because its a family thing and i know way more than you i can go on for hours but why bother wasting my time on a guy like you have a good day
Timothy Wheelster More than 1 year ago
More money for winning horses and more racing of unsound horses. Horse racing sucks because of all the greedy trainers and owners that just want to make a few extra dollars so they will do whatever thet have to do to their horses to make them run faster and it has a negative effect on the horse over time.