Updated on 12/16/2014 11:02AM

For NYRA, spate of fatalities brings back bad recent memories


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – There have been six racing fatalities through the first seven days of the Aqueduct inner-track meet, bringing back haunting memories of the 2011-12 season, when there were 21 fatalities in a four-month span.

The recent fatalities have brought the number of equine deaths suffered at the New York Racing Association’s three tracks in 2014 to 33, according to the New York State Gaming Commission’s Equine Breakdown, Injury and Incident Database. NYRA officials on Friday expressed concern about the recent fatalities but maintain that the number of catastrophic racing injuries – which they put at 22 – equals the second smallest in a quarter-century.

Nine of the 33 fatalities, NYRA officials said, are classified as “sudden death” from something such as a cardiovascular collapse or a broken neck suffered in a fall where the horse was not euthanized. NYRA classified two additional deaths as being unrelated to racing.

“We are watching. We don’t think at this stage that we’re in a red-alert situation and that 2012 is going to repeat itself,” said Martin Panza, NYRA’s senior vice president of racing operations. “But we can’t predict the future.”

The fatalities from 2011-12 prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to form the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety. That task force made a number of recommendations that NYRA has implemented and that the company believes have helped reduce fatalities, including stricter pre-race examinations.

“My people are doing everything, pre-race exams, ontrack observations, everything. If we don’t like something, you’re getting scratched, and the trainers can scream, but nobody comes and tells me not to do it,” said Dr. Anthony Verderosa, NYRA’s chief examining veterinarian. “Martin knows not to do that. We do our jobs. Everybody backs us up. When horses are at speed, and you got 18,000 starts a year, you’re going to have some unfortunate incidences, and the numbers right now – and I hate to put it in those terms – are not that bad.”

According to statistics provided by NYRA, the 22 catastrophic racing injuries is the same number as last year. The lowest number of catastrophic racing injuries in the last decade was 21 in 2004. In 2012, there were 38.

Officials and horsemen do not believe there is a safety issue with the inner track.

“We’ve had no complaints from [the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association] or the jockeys about track surface, so it fully leads us to believe that there is nothing going on with the track surfaces,” Panza said.

Both David Jacobson, whose horse Ludo Bagman suffered fractured sesamoids and had to be euthanized Thursday, and Rudy Rodriguez, whose horse Sage Valley died from cardiovascular collapse Wednesday, said the track is safe.

“A lot of people criticize the track. They don’t know what they’re looking at,” said Rodriguez, who gets on eight or nine horses each morning. “The track has been very safe.”

Dr. Scott Palmer, a member of the 2012 Task Force and now the state’s equine medical director, said NYRA still remains under the average of 2.0 per 1,000 starters in terms of catastrophic injuries, but he did say he is concerned about the recent deaths.

“Am I concerned? Absolutely,” Palmer said. “The word’s out to the trainers, ‘For crying out loud, be careful.’ This is a big, big concern, not just from the horse standpoint, but from the jockey standpoint as well.”

During Saratoga, where there were eight deaths – four of which were musculoskeletal in nature – Palmer issued a press release stating there would be a “thorough investigation” of all racing fatalities.

“All of those cases are in the review process, and we will issue a report for that when we’re done with that,” Palmer said Friday.

In regard to the increase in cardiovascular-related deaths, Palmer mentioned one possible extra pre-race examination that could be added would be a one-lead EKG that is done using an I-Phone.

However, Verderosa said that more research would be needed for that to be used at NYRA.

“It’s a long way from being put into any practical use,” Verderosa said. “I work on the practical side.”

One area where Verderosa and Palmer agreed was perhaps opening up tracks, such as Aqueduct’s inner track, earlier than had been previously done to let horses adapt to the new surface before racing starts.

“If a horse’s skeleton does not adapt to the surface it runs over, little things that are there that can’t be seen or felt even to the trainer – in their defense – they will sometimes turn into big things like catastrophic injuries,” Verderosa said.

Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
jacobson and rudy were the trainers of two recent horses that died. i believe them when they say it was not the tracks surface..we all know as they do it was probably all the juice.
russell More than 1 year ago
The first horse I ever heard of dying of cardiac arrest was Mr Nickerson in the BC Sprint. That was a few years before NY loosened medication rules and allowed Lasix. Don't tell me cheap claimers don't breakdown. Two NYRA legendary gelding claimers in Boom Towner and Creme de la Fete both had bowed tendons and couldnt stay straight in the stretch at 8-9 years old. Guess what happened to them? Both won a ton of races.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Years ago, I saw a horse collapse and pass-away right after winning a race from a supposed "heart incident", his name was Brother's Double, Menotti Aristone was the jock, I was grandstand level but at the top of the stretch, and was horrified watching the horse through my binoculars.
Michael Parker More than 1 year ago
They don't have these kinds of numbers in Europe. They don't use dirt cleats so there is much less chance of clipping heels. Ban dirt cleats and accidents will be greatly reduced. Medications are more strictly controlled too which also helps. It can be done. Of course moving forward with anything in your country seems insanely difficult. One word comes to mind....Congress.
Steve Sanft More than 1 year ago
The bottom line is most racing fans will have to leave the game if this continues. The heartbreak of watching horses die is much stronger than the itch to gamble and to support this is morally indefensible.
Nathan More than 1 year ago
central nervous system. no pain, no gain. figure it out.the shrinks have and so have the vets.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
Jacobson, and Rodriguez will have a few more break down...count on it. Poor horses in their "care".
Bill More than 1 year ago
www.clockerbob.com Besides being the West Coast premiere juvenile conditioner, my boss was noted for reading four national newspapers daily. Once, he created a ‘row’ with the press by calling them dim. It seems that, over a short period of time, for reasons unknown, numerous well-conditioned thoroughbreds suddenly collapsed and died in their own footsteps. The press noted that all the sudden deaths post-mortem lab tests came back clean. My trainer worried that the Feds would figure out what was going on, in a short period of time. The labs were testing for nothing the vets were buying straight or sideways. Instead, the ‘white coats’ plundered contracts from image conscious racetracks, by searching for old PEDs under the code names of those who never lab tested positive 'Mark McGwire', 'Ryan Braun', ‘Lance Armstrong’ and ‘Oscar juice’. The frequency and brutality of breakdowns rose as the number of clean necropsy and lab reports hit a record.
Greg Jones More than 1 year ago
Quite pathetic how Jacobson/DAS and other trainers are protected. Those that are dying on the track are NOT sound and should NOT be racing, period. People that believe the myth of the bad step are dead wrong and clueless. Ludo Bagman NEVER took a bad step and the stewards lied in their notes. They said: Ludo Bagman ""stumbled unseating rider-ran loose-pulled up", all lies people. Never stumbled, never unseated jockey, never ran loose, all facts. NYRA are a complete joke and ask yourself why they protect the likes of David Jacobson. Gutless and shameful...
Jamie Murphy More than 1 year ago
for nyra not showing replays of any race where a horse goes down is a big concern. WHY?
Pete Sundar More than 1 year ago
As writer Greg Jones stated, the video offers hard proof that NYRA and the stewards are lying/misleading the betting public, as was the case in Ludo Bagman. Do you think that it is coincidence that a horse from both Jacobson and Rudy's barn ( only ) broke down on the same day ???
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
One of the disadvantages of "SLOTS"
Mickey More than 1 year ago
The BOTTOM line is overall the TRACK itself is safe....its what is racing over it that there is a problem.... Russell below fit it the closest...cheap horses..young jockeys...medication up the ying yang...is the cause.... I said this before and I will say it again....in NYRA..there is NO reason not to go to a 3 day week schedule- (FRI-SAT-SUN)...9 races a day from mid December to Mid March....NONE....(if you lose racing because of weather...then one weekend you can go to 10 races)...this IMPROVES quality, BIGGER fields....and LESS damage control....enough of Maiden claiming 12.5 fields..and 10 k claimers....NO OFFENSE but there are plenty of tracks local enough that can handle that (and cheaper too!)...it gives quality racing (or as much as can be considered quality at this time of year) throughout these 'tough" weather months.....this would be WIN- WIN....
Tim More than 1 year ago
Cheaper racing classes doesn't neccessarily mean more prone to injury- they could also just be slower animals. Stringent medication regulation & testing, pre-race inspections, scratching an unsound horse during the post parade/warm-up should be used to cull out any horse at risk, not eliminating races for less talented stock.
bernie fuhrman More than 1 year ago
cheaper racing by definition is safer because those horses don't compete as hard and as a result don't outrace their skeleton and cardiovascular abilities.Its usually the competitive runners hurting themselves as in real human life,i.e. pro football etc.
Mickey More than 1 year ago
Tim..I disagree.....yes there will be horses that remain healthy throughout their career (which just aches and pains as they get older)...BUT we all know this is a bottom dollar business....and many trainers (under pressure from owners) WILL try to get those horses to the races as fast as possible...(and this is where injuries do crop up and is seen all the time with cheaper horses)...if an owner has money...they are more apt to wait out an injury (at almost any level)...but most do not..and as such as a horse is sliding down the class ladder..here or other cheaper tracks..(cheap racing).....injuries are more and more common... Yes could they be healthy and slow?...sure....and racing at a consistent level throughout their career...no problem...but around here that does not happen often...
Hail No More than 1 year ago
That's not entirely accurate. Those last two paragraphs: "One area where Verderosa and Palmer agreed was perhaps opening up tracks, such as Aqueduct’s inner track, earlier than had been previously done to let horses adapt to the new surface before racing starts. “If a horse’s skeleton does not adapt to the surface it runs over, little things that are there that can’t be seen or felt and to the trainer – in their defense – they will sometimes turn into big things like catastrophic injuries,” Verderosa said" Have implications greater than just "cheap" horses or "higher" class horses, at Aqu or ANY track...Adaptation is the key, just look at that dang track for SA during BC, if you were more than 5 or 7 lengths behind the early pack, you had no chance at winning the race..Last year, some owners were very vocal about the concerns they had for their horses safety, it's a myth that cheaper horses break-down more frequently, reckless regard for any horses safety, has no class ramifications. . Rotate the BC, please..
Jamie Murphy More than 1 year ago
so if they go to that schedule and one horse goes down, you will still have a higher ratio. doesn't solve the problem
Mickey More than 1 year ago
Horses are ALWAYS going to break down...good and bad..just that cheaper ones will break down more....the schedule was for BETTER racing to be conducted here during that time...which in turn would lessen the amount of breakdowns....WHILE having better class of racing...fuller fields...larger handle..etc...