12/15/2014 2:44PM

New procedures in place after Charles Town accident


The stewards at Charles Town are implementing new procedures for the track’s Wednesday race card following an accident Saturday night in which a loose horse running the wrong way on the track collided with another horse, leading to a horse’s death, without an available warning system being activated.

Danny Wright, the chief state steward at the track, acknowledged Monday that racing officials failed to direct the activation of the warning system during the race, the fourth on the night’s card. Wright said the switches controlling the system were in an office down the hall from the stewards’ stand occupied by the timer, and that a separate switch would be installed by Wednesday that could be activated directly by the stewards.

Erich Zimny, the track’s vice president of racing operations, said Monday that an investigation by the track had concluded that the stewards had failed to follow existing procedures requiring them to alert the track’s timer to activate the system in the event of a horse running the wrong way. He said the system had been properly activated during several prior incidents at the track and added that stewards had recently told the track’s timer that he should not activate the alarms without a direct order from the stewards.

“In the past, our folks had been alerted,” Zimny said. “For some reason, that was not the case this time.”

Wright also said outriders on the track were in poor position to react to the situation, and that some jockeys at the track had not been properly instructed about what to do in the case of an emergency. Outriders have already been instructed on where to take up positions in route races in order to head off loose horses, Wright said, and the track is holding a meeting for riders Wednesday prior to the races in order to describe the proper procedures in the event of a loose horse.

“We will be well prepared should these circumstances ever arise again,” said Wright.

According to officials, the incident occurred after Winningaswespeak clipped heels and threw her rider on the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile race. Winningaswespeak then got up, turned, and began running the wrong way, skimming the rail. She eventually collided with Frisky Dixie on the stretch turn, throwing rider Carlos Castro. A trailing horse, Fab Autumn Girl, tripped over Frisky Dixie, throwing rider Roman Maldonado.

The chart for the race has been removed from online sites. It was declared a non-race by the stewards.

None of the jockeys involved in the incident were injured, although Castro went to the hospital for an evaluation, according to Terry Meyocks, the national manager of the Jockeys’ Guild. Frisky Dixie was euthanized with a broken shoulder, according to multiple officials.

It is extremely rare for a horse to run the wrong way on a racetrack. In the vast majority of cases, a horse who throws his rider will follow the rest of the field as they run the right way around the track.

Charles Town’s race announcer, Jeff Cernik, attempted to alert the riders about the wrong-way horse twice during his call, but it’s likely that some of the riders did not hear the warnings. A video of the race shows several of the riders swinging their horses into the middle of the track as Winningaswespeak began approaching in the final turn.

Charles Town’s warning system includes flashing lights and a siren. The signals are intended to alert riders to pull up their horses and use extreme caution. As at most tracks, the warning system is most often used in morning training hours, when horses are far more likely to run the wrong way.

Meyocks said the incident at Charles Town shows that racetracks across the U.S. need to review their safety procedures regularly to avoid incidents like the one Saturday night.

“It’s not just Charles Town,” he said. “This could happen anywhere, at any time.”