After seven horses died in a 19-day period this spring at Emerald Downs, the racetrack opted to create a task force to evaluate the deaths, and to see if similar injuries could be prevented in the future. Its findings were reported June 15.
Fortunately, detailed soil and track assessments, as well as input from industry members and groups, indicated the track itself is in good shape, and the injuries were unrelated. However, the task force discussed future improvements and methods of handling breakdowns at the Seattle-area track.
"Based on my observation of the track on-site and the results of the testing program, the condition of the track is very good," said consulting soils engineer Grove Way. "There is no single observed track condition to which injuries could logically be attributed."
The seven injuries, which resulted in death or euthanization of seven horses between April 20 and May 9, were considered separately. One horse died of a ruptured artery. Two suffered broken cannon bones. Two fractured a humorous. Another fractured a vertebrae. The last broke a tibia. The report stated "there were no identifiable commonalities that could be pointed to as causes for the incidents."
The task force determined, however, that injuries and safeguards in place to prevent them, are not handled in a way which prevents misunderstandings by the public and media. "The industry needs to do a better job of communicating the very high standards of safety and prevention to which they are held," the report said.
To continue that process, the members of the task force decided to transition into an ongoing work group to examine equine health and safety and responses to "those occurrences that cannot be predicted."
"We work on issues of safety, prevention, and response every day," said Gary Baze, a member of the task force and a Jockey's Guild representative. "It's the background to racing that no one notices until there has to be a response to an accident. The industry needs to do a better job of communicating information to the public about the very high standards to which they are held."