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U.S. Catastrophic Breakdowns

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acacia alba View Drop Down
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    Posted: 08 Feb 2019 at 9:39am

From a friend in the US.  Makes for interesting reading.

Racehorses move with majestic grace, power and beauty. 

One thousand pounds of muscle thundering down a track at 40 mph, eyes bulging, hearts pounding, dirt flying.

But, sometimes, a femur gives way with an audible snap. A jockey, in flashing colors, crashes to the ground. The animal follows, a tumble of legs, tail and torso. 

Because anatomy does not allow a thoroughbred or a quarter horse to lie down for weeks of recovery, there is often no recourse: A veterinarian arrives within seconds, evaluates the suffering beast, then delivers a lethal injection. The corpse is winched into a van and hauled away.

At Arizona tracks last year, that scenario played out at a record-setting pace, as 50 horses were put down during the 2017-18 season, mostly during races, according to a study issued by the state Department of Gaming.

That's more than twice the number of "catastrophic injuries" experienced two years earlier, and double the national equine death rate at tracks.

The vast majority of Arizona's horse fatalities occurred at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, the biggest and busiest parimutuel-wagering enterprise in the state. Officials there sought to pre-empt this report with a January media release announcing new safety measures to address an "uptick in track injuries."  

"What is so puzzling to Turf Paradise is why the rate spiked to double the industry standard," the news release stated.

The Gaming Department's study, "Fatality Breakthrough Project," was obtained by The Arizona Republic via a public-records request.

It does not identify a primary cause for the death spree, and neither do horse racing insiders —  jockeys, veterinarians, trainers and track operators — interviewed for this story. They offer multiple theories, but cannot fully explain the phenomenon.

Even as the study was underway, with new precautions being tested, the death rate continued to surge. Last year, nearly one animal was euthanized at Turf Paradise for every three days of racing. 

Of the track's 45 fatalities, 27 occurred during competition and 10 more during training runs — mostly suffering leg or fetlock (ankle) injuries. Eight horses died due to non-exercise issues such as pneumonia or colic. 

The Jockey Club, a registry organization for thoroughbreds that also monitors fatal injuries at tracks nationwide, reports an average equine death rate of 1.61 per 1,000 race starts. In Arizona during fiscal 2018, the rate was 3.41.


Turf Paradise, at Bell Road and 19th Avenue, dominates Arizona's parimutuel scene with 131 live racing days a year. By comparison, Rillito Racetrack in Tucson has 12 and Sonoita Horse Races in Santa Cruz County has two.

Turf Paradise General Manager Vince Francia stressed last month that safety is "our No. 1 priority."  

"When a horse does 'break down,' that is a heartbreak for all of us," he added,using the industry term for an injury that causes a horse to pull up lame. 

Francia said Turf Paradise has "one of the most aggressive safety protocols in the nation," and suggested a mysterious combination of factors may be responsible for the spike in deaths.

"We haven't figured it out," Francia said, "but we're committed to figuring it out."

Two deaths on one day

On Jan. 8, 2017, two horses suffered catastrophic injuries while racing at Turf Paradise.

Video of the first race shows a quarter horse named With Love Too, under the whip early, crumpling in the final turn with jockey Enrique Garcia, who suffers bruised ribs.

Six races later, Mydancingshadow breaks a foreleg in the middle of the pack and face-plunges to the earth. Jockey David Lopez somersaults over the top before getting clipped by a trailing horse.

Both injured animals were euthanized, and their demise punctuated an alarming trend previously reported only in an industry blog: Horse deaths in Arizona climbed 83 percent from the 2015-16 season, and were continuing to rise.

Turf Paradise began requiring fitness exams for animals that lost their previous race by more than 35 lengths. (The "easing" of a horse by a jockey may suggest injury.)

At the same time, a collaborative study was undertaken by the Gaming Department, Turf Paradise, the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, veterinarians and Midwestern University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Investigators analyzed incidents bythe horses' breed, gender and age, as well as the type of track (turf or dirt), time of race, distance covered and purse size. 

While no particular culprit was identified, the study places suspicion on animals with recent medical issues; horses that were scratched or pulled up in a prior race; and those with long training gaps.

Some new precautions were enacted immediately. Beginning in 2018, up to 15 horses with high-risk factors were targeted for pre-race examinations daily. Forty-four were found unfit, and scratched.

Shock-wave therapy, which reduces inflammation but masks pain, was banned in the stable area. A safety committee began reviewing each fatality, with mandatory blood tests. 

A spike in breakdowns during heavy rains suggested track conditions also play a role, so Turf Paradise closed on several storm days. A rule was adopted allowing representatives of jockeys, trainers and owners, or Turf Paradise, to halt races when they think conditions are "not right."

Flat-track motorcycle racing, which was introduced at Turf Paradise during the off-season just before the fatality spike, has been discontinued.

Yet many steps were not taken, and the number of deaths continued to swell.

Recommendations not enacted

The state's fatality study contains a dozen recommended actions for equine safety.

Initial findings were presented to Arizona Racing Commission members in late 2017. A full report went to them in September 2018.

To date, those who set policy for Turf Paradise and other tracks have not voted to enact any of the recommendations. The Gaming Department, which produced the study and regulates parimutuel wagering through its Division of Racing, has not imposed new rules.

In an email responding to questions about oversight, Gaming Department spokeswoman Caroline Oppleman said her agency has "sought and received voluntarily cooperation from industry stakeholders who share our concern."

The fatality review only began two years ago, so data is still being gathered and analyzed, Oppleman said. 

The department "is committed to working with the racing community and industry stakeholders to address these multifaceted equine safety issues, and continuing to enhance data collection to inform sound recommendations and countermeasures going forward."

Among the recommendations:

  • The Racing Division should employ a new veterinarian for pre-race examinations of all horses, and hire a new safety steward. No vet or safety steward has been hired. Oppleman said recommendations came after the agency's 2019 budget was completed. 
  • Outside experts should evaluate and improve track conditions. No independent evaluation has been done, according to the track supervisor at Turf Paradise.
  • Horse trainers and assistants should undergo equine safety education to maintain their licenses. No regulation has been adopted. The Racing Division is considering informal safety sessions. 
  • Arizona tracks should participate in a database maintained by the Jockey Club for analysis of equine injuries. Turf Paradise now provides data for that research project. 
  • Turf Paradise should schedule a break in its racing season, which is one of the nation's longest, to give horses a recovery period. Track operators, trainers and owners say such a move would financially hurt a struggling industry.

On Jan. 10, Racing Commissioner Rory Goree prevented a vote for renewal of Turf Paradise's operational license by stomping out of a meeting after voicing disgust over safety and oversight.

"If we're not, as a collective group, giving a s--t about security," Goree asked, "how are we giving a s--t about racing? … We have people's lives — and horses' lives — at risk."

'Suffering and dying for a sport'

Horse-racing enterprises and enthusiasts are perpetually striving to fend off critics around the globe. 

One website, Horse Racing Fact Sheet, blasts a message that thoroughbreds in America "are the victims of a multi-billion dollar industry that is rife with drug abuse, injuries, and death."

Another, Horseracing Wrongs, contains a nationwide list of dead animals along with gruesome descriptions. 

Patrick Battuello, who operates that site, said he doesn't believe data from the Jockey Club or parimutuel operators, and estimates 2,000 animals die in races or training runs each year.

There is no official tally of racehorse deaths nationwide.

Battuello, who lives in New York, said his goal is to get racing banned. Each time a track experiences a fatality surge, he added, safety committees are formed, experts try to identify the cause, and nothing really changes.

"Horses are suffering and dying for a sport — or whatever you want to call it — that people don't care about," he said. "It's a gambling business. Always has been, always will be."

'Multiplicity of factors'

Turf Paradise, in operation for 63 years, claims an estimated $91 million impact on Arizona's economy, and attracts about 200,000 spectators and bettors annually.

The new data on horse deaths comes as co-owner Jerry Simms is pushing for casino-style gaming at about 50 off-track betting parlors controlled by his enterprise statewide.

Francia, the Turf Paradise general manager, said track owners are doing all they can to reverse a fatality trend that appears to be caused by a "multiplicity of factors." 

Francia gave a Republic reporter a tour of safety features, pointing to an equine swimming pool — one of just four at the nation's 82 horse tracks — as an investment in the health and wellness of the animals that are the industry's lifeblood.

Turf Paradise overhauls the track with fresh soil at the start of each season. New harrows were purchased to soften the running surface, which is renovated weekly.

Everyone in the racing business loves horses, Francia added, and each death is devastating.

'Like losing a part of your family'

Kevin Eikleberry, a leading trainer, and others attributed the fatality rate to inferior horses. Because Turf Paradise revenues are relatively low, he said, purses are too small to attract top-flight animals.

That risk is compounded, Eikleberry said, because owners sometimes run their horses 20 or more times a year just to survive financially, creating a greater chance of breakdowns.

Eikleberry said he's very protective of his animals — losing just one horse in 40 years of racing — but he sympathizes with owners and trainers. "It's tough," he noted. "Kind of like losing a part of your family."

Scott Stevens, a top jockey, agreed that Arizona gets "some of the lower-end claiming horses," which may account for deaths.

At age 59, with four decades of racing, Stevens said he's broken every bone in his body. He described horses and jockeys as athletes, and compared racing to other sports where injuries are a part of competing. 

"It's no different than when we watch a football game: Somebody takes a bad step and breaks a leg," he said.

Stevens recalled a race aboard Arizona Irish at Turf Paradise several years ago. The horse was in first place, just 100 yards from the finish, when a bone snapped inexplicably.

"I was extremely close to that horse. I've never let myself get that attached again," Stevens said. "… This isn't like a meat locker where they just run horses and abuse the hell out of 'em."

Verlin D. Jones, a Turf Paradise veterinarian, said he believes horse fatalities have climbed at every track in the nation, and economics are partly to blame.

With the recession of 2008, Jones said, purses dropped and a lot of big-money investors left racing. So the number of horses dwindled, and quality dropped.

At the same time, Jones said, the industry banned use of steroidal medications that reduce an animal's pain. While intentions may have been good, he said, that led to more animals running with pain, altering their gait, and breaking down as a result.

Jones said pre-race examinations help, but are not infallible. "So many horses, I may not like how they look, yet they end up winning the race."

On Dec. 12, a horse named Unusual Champ broke down at the halfway mark and didn't finish. Necropsy results showed a lung hemorrhage.

So far this season, according to Gaming Department records, there have been 22 catastrophic injuries — on pace for another record year. 

"We're still having issues with it," said Francia.



Edited by Gay3 - 10 Jul 2019 at 9:16am
animals before people.
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acacia alba View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote acacia alba Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Feb 2019 at 10:44am
LOL, thanks Gay Thumbs Up
animals before people.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote furious Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Feb 2019 at 10:58am
One of the many reasons horse breeding can be helped by content of soil.  Why studs end up all around certain areas is the soil it right for building bone.  One of the reasons to fight for those areas when mines want to move in.  

No matter how much we try to replicate nature we can't get it as good as nature.  So if the bones are inferior could also be home breds and horses bred on properties where the soil mix isn't right.  But without good bone in an individual you would have to expect a greater chance of breading down.  Just guessing here.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carioca Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Feb 2019 at 12:16pm
You may think your guessing furious but your post holds a lot of truth fwiw, added to this is synthetic feed sups. while the intentions may be good you can't beat Mother Nature in regards to a good spell and letting her infuse what she knows best, the old saying " half the breeding is in the feeding " imo is quite apt.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Gay3 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jul 2019 at 9:19am
From acacia alba Thumbs Up

Bramlage, McIlwraith on Santa Anita: A Combination of Factors to Blame

Renowned veterinarians talk catastrophic injury prevention, uniform medication policies, and more in a Translational Medicine Institute video.

Bramlage, McIlwraith on Santa Anita: A Combination of Factors to Blame

A collection of factors ranging from racing surface to perception of soundness could have contributed to the 30 horse fatalities at California’s Santa Anita Park, say two world-renowned racehorse health experts.

But, they suggest, there are ways the industry can combat such issues—from canceling racing when conditions dictate to more frequent and detailed lameness examinations.

In June 2019 the Colorado State University (CSU) Translational Medicine Institute posted a video featuring a discussion between Larry Bramlage, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, an equine orthopedic surgeon and shareholder at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and C. Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, DSc, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, an equine orthopedic surgeon and a University Distinguished Professor and Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Orthopaedics at CSU—on its YouTube channel. The two talked about the Santa Anita catastrophic injuries and other industry controversies such as race-day medications and uniform drug rules.

‘A Combination of Factors’

Thirty horses have died or been euthanized due to injuries sustained during racing or training at Santa Anita since just before the new year. Theories and debate about what caused the cluster of catastrophic injuries swirled among horsemen, industry stakeholders, and even the general public. So, what’s the most likely explanation?

“It was a combination of factors,” McIlwraith said, potentially including:

  • Racetrack surface;
  • Weather conditions – specifically excessive rain;
  • “Notices sent to horsemen at last year’s Autumn Meet and at the start of the Winter Meet, telling them that stall allocation would be related to a number of horses entered in races which could obviously push trainers to enter horses, perhaps before they were ready” McIlwraith said; and
  • “Soundness of the horses or difficulty in diagnosing some horses having pre-existing problems.” he said.

Statistically speaking, Bramlage pointed out, the overall Thoroughbred catastrophic injury rate gradually declined during the past several years.

“Now, nothing lasts forever, and you’re always going to have variations—increases at some times and decreases at some times,” he said. “There was (an increase) this year at Santa Anita. Six years ago, it was at Aqueduct (Racetrack, near New York City). … Certainly, weather and racetrack surface played a role in both those incidences—the winter weather in New York and that rainy (winter) in California.”

But, he added, it’s important to remember that injuries are a part of all high-level athletic competition, regardless of which species is participating.

For example, “one of the things that has the most effect on a football team having a good season is how many of the 22 starters that play the first game are still playing the last game,” Bramlage said, noting that some years teams have virtually no injuries, which almost always amounts to a good season. But if they sustain higher-than-normal levels of injury, the opposite happens.

“I think that’s what we see in racehorses,” he said, regarding the increased injury rate.

The Jockey Club Equine Injury Database reported that, in 2018, the catastrophic injury rate was 1.68 per 1,000 starts for all surfaces; it was 1.86 per 1,000 starts for dirt tracks alone.

That rate is fairly low, Bramlage said, “but at Santa Anita, you’ve got 3,000 horses training.”

A large horse population coupled with even one of the factors McIlwraith described could lead to an increased injury rate, he said.

“That’s not an excuse for it being okay,” Bramlage added. “But we have to look at it. It actually may show us some things we need to know.”

Weather and Racetrack Surface Consistency

Bramlage and McIlwraith agree that weather likely played a role in the recent cluster of injuries.

“Inconsistency is the thing that bothers the horse the most (and) the weather tends to change the consistency of the racetrack,” Bramlage said.

He explained that a horse working or racing is accustomed to one kind of surface. When they hit another kind—or one of a different consistency—the limb biomechanics and loading change, as well.

McIlwraith said the high volume of rain Southern California experienced left the dirt track wet, which, in turn, led to the track superintendent and crew sealing it. When a track is sealed—a process used only on dirt tracks—the maintenance crew compacts the surface to allow water to run off it.

“Sealed racetracks increase injuries, and I don’t think anyone questions that,” he said. “The dilemma, of course, is when do you decide to close that track? In hindsight, I think there are certainly days that instead of sealing the track, they should have closed the track.”

It’s next to impossible to have a good racetrack when the ground is excessively wet, he said.

More Thorough Exams, More Diagnostics, More Often

While new approaches can’t change the past, they could help reduce the number of catastrophic injuries racehorses suffer. Bramlage and McIlwraith believe more thorough lameness exams across the board could help in that regard.

“There’s a lot of variation between barns, trainers, and vets as to how detailed an examination is regularly done on horses,” McIlwraith said. “(We need) a uniform diagnostic level where these horses get thoroughly examined regularly. I’m not talking about going into a bone scan or that kind of thing—just jogging up for the vet.”

There’s this perception sometimes that we don’t have diagnostic equipment that can identify the kind of injury that predisposes a horse to a fatality. More times than not, it’s not that we can’t identify it, it’s that we’re not looking.”

Dr. Larry Bramlage
And, he added, this shouldn’t just be for horses on the vet’s list, meaning a regulatory veterinarian has observed that the horse is lame at any point. “It needs to be a regular event,” he said.

Bramlage concurred but noted that imaging should be a part of the process, as well.

“There’s this perception sometimes that we don’t have diagnostic equipment that can identify the kind of injury that predisposes a horse to a fatality,” he said. “More times than not, it’s not that we can’t identify it, it’s that we’re not looking. We have to continually move toward … when a horse is showing something’s bothering him, you need to get to the bottom of it.”

For those horses on the vet’s list, Bramlage recommended a protocol to help protect them.

“The Equine Injury Database shows that a horse that goes on the vet’s list … three times, they’re almost certainly going to have a fatal injury,” he said. “That is because they’re not being diagnosed.

“A lot of those horses get time (to rest), they get palliative medication, they might get physical therapy, they get sound, they have to work then before they race, but when they go back into high-speed activity they get lame again,” he continued. “That gets them on the list the second time and they still may not get a veterinary examination.

“I think if we could make one change, we should require a horse that goes on the vet’s list to have a veterinary examination or they’re out for 90 days, because we can’t tolerate this increased risk that we’re not eliminating where we could.”

Uniform Medication Rules and Race-Day Medications

Catastrophic injuries aren’t the only controversy in racing.  One of the most enduring debates has been about medications and uniform rules regarding them for all racing jurisdictions. Bramlage and McIlwraith agree that uniform rules are needed moving forward. However, over the past 30 years industry stakeholders haven’t been able to agree on them.

Bramlage said this is due, in part, to each racing jurisdiction seeking to tailor policies to their own needs. “I think that if we’re going to have a uniform medication policy, everyone’s not going to get what they want,” he said. “But I think we need to get to a place where everyone has something they can live with.”

McIlwraith concurred. “It can’t happen with individual needs and preferences,” he said. “We need a national authority. Some major (racing industry) segments have resisted that. But that’s what we need.”

The pair also touched on whether race-day use of furosemide (marketed as Salix but commonly referred to as Lasix) should stay or go. Marketed to lessen the effects of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH, or “bleeding”), Lasix is the only drug permitted to be administered on race day in North America, and most other racing jurisdictions worldwide prohibit race-day Lasix administration.

“The question of eliminating race-day Lasix, there’s some there’s some laudable reasons to do so because we’re out of step with the rest of the world. However, there is no scientific evidence for Lasix promoting musculoskeletal injury,” McIlwraith said.

Bramlage added, “No one really argues with the fact that Lasix is effective at reducing bleeding.  … So, we need to find a way to get around this situation, and it takes the wisdom of Solomon trying to find that.”

If the North American racing industry as a whole were to ban race-day furosemide, McIlwraith said, “it’ll be forgotten in six months,” meaning it would just become part of the fabric of racing.

“There’s still be a winner in every race,” Bramlage added. “I think it’s a question of how you want to attack the underlying problem: the fact that horses in high-level athletic activity are vulnerable to pulmonary hemorrhage, and whether that’s acceptable or not … or whether we’re able to tolerate that occasional occurrence or the underlying occurrence that affects performance.

“We’re all on the same playing field now because almost every horse gets Lasix,” he continued. “So if every horse didn’t get Lasix you would lose some horses (from the sport, unable to race without it), there’s no doubt about it, but it’s going to be much fewer than I think most people perceive.”

McIlwraith agreed: “There’s enough experience internationally in every other country where Lasix is not allowed that we know the decrease will be relatively small.”

Still, Bramlage said, “the performance of a lot of horses is going to be affected.”

The pair also discussed biologic therapies (specifically IRAP, or interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein) in racehorses, medication rules for differing racing breeds, and the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner disqualification ruling. Watch the full 51-minute video at youtu.be/DRqL-DjjTng.

Experience is something you gain a few minutes after you could have used it!
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