by Matt Rosenberg May 31st, 2010
The Washington Horse Racing Commission reported in April 2010 that the state’s racing fatality rate per 1,000 starts reached its highest level yet in 2009, of 2.64, since the commission began compiling data on annual racehorse fatalities in Washington State in 2001. Last year, there were 16 racing-related fatalities among 6,058 starts reported in 815 races on 91 race days at the state’s sole for-profit horse racing facility, Emerald Downs in Auburn, WA. The 2.64 per thousand racing fatality rate in 2009 compares to an annual average of 1.88 per thousand at Emerald Downs over the eight previous years. Total race horse fatalities in Washington in 2009 were 35, one less than the previous high of 36 in 2008.
KEY LINK: Equine Health And Safety Report, 2009, Washington Horse Racing Commission, April 9, 2010. The report is found in the right hand column under “Reports” at this page.
BACKGROUND: Under state law, the Washington Horse Racing Commission promotes and oversees the industry, including tracking the health and safety of race horses which perform in the state. The commission’s postmortem program began in 2001. According to the commission’s Annual Report For 2009, pari-mutuel wagering in the state last year totaled $114 million; $91.6 million was returned to the public and $22.8 million retained. The vast bulk of racing occurred at Emerald Downs. Other racing was at Sun Downs, Walla Walla, Dayton, and Waitsburg.
- Since it began tracking annual racehorse fatalities in Washington State in 2001, the Washington Horse Racing Commission reports that the state’s racing fatality rate per 1,000 starts reached its highest level yet in 2009, of 2.64, with 16 racing-related fatalities among 6,058 starts in 815 races on 91 race days at Emerald Downs in Auburn, WA.
- Total race horse fatalities in Washington in 2009 were 35, one less than the previous high of 36 in 2008. 16 occurred as a direct result of injuries suffered while horses were racing, eight while training, one in the paddock, and 10 in the barn. There were 238 training days in 2009.
- Of the 268 total race horse fatalities in Washington state from 2001 through 2009, 71.3 percent, or 191, were caused by injuries to the musculoskeletal system, which includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and bones. The organ systems next most frequently linked to race horse deaths in the same period in the state were respiratory (29 deaths) and gastrointestinal (27 deaths).
- There were a total of only 17 stewards’ rulings finding that medication violations occurred at Washington racetracks in 2009. Twelve were overages on permitted medications (phenlybutazone and furosemide), three were for the presence of a Class 4 substance prohibited on race days (methocarbamol), and two were for improper administration of medication.
“Why Are Broken Legs So Dangerous For Horses?,” Wise Geek
“Putting The Horse First,” white paper, American Association Of Equine Practitioners, 2/18/09.
KEY FINDINGS OF “PUTTING THE HORSE FIRST” WHITE PAPER
- “Thoroughbred racing is a $15 billion industry in the United States, and the business model has evolved over the years to favor training and racing of two-year-old horses that compete for championship purses late in their two-year-old year. Their peak earning potential is in the three-year-old year, with a gradually diminishing emphasis on continued racing into the four-year-old year and later.”
- “…Because a larger field of horses promotes more wagering, which in turn increases purse size, small field sizes have caused racing secretaries in some instances to apply pressure to trainers to enter horses who might not otherwise be suitable for racing. This practice must be eliminated, as it encourages entry of horses at shorter intervals that may place them at increased risk of injury due to increased frequency of high-speed cyclic loading.”
- “Another concerning trend is an increasing number of racing executives that do not have experience in horse racing or horse care. We believe it is imperative that senior racetrack management become knowledgeable about the issues and business practices that directly affect the welfare and safety of the horses that race at their tracks.”
- “…not all horses are able to sustain the same level of training without significant stress or injury. There is a need for continued investigation of the welfare and safety implications of current policies and procedures employed to sell, condition and race two-year-olds.”
- “Other practices that will improve the safety of the racehorse include the development of a consistent protocol for pre-race examinations by regulatory veterinarians as well as uniform criteria for scratching horses.”
- “…There also is lack of uniformity in reporting racehorse injuries, particularly those that occur during morning workouts. Judicious application of a standardized reporting system will increase the racing industry’s ability to monitor and address racing and training injuries.”
- “In most racing jurisdictions there is no institutional program to care for horses that can no longer race. The view of most racing facilities is that the responsibility for the care of horses rests entirely with the owner. This view is entirely appropriate. However, if a horse owner does not provide responsible care for retired racehorses, the industry becomes vulnerable to attack for apparent lack of concern for equine welfare. The resulting negative impact on horse racing’s image can contribute to disenfranchisement of racing fans.”