Catastrophic Injuries Spike at Turfway

There is no known cause for the increase in fatalities.

After going a month with no fatalities, Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky was the site of five catastrophic injuries during an eight-day period in February, according to state veterinarian Dr. Bryce Peckham.

During his monthly report March 10 to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Peckham said the fatalities occurred between Feb. 13 and Feb. 21. Among the fatalities was one on Feb. 19, a day when Turfway canceled the remainder of its race card following the third race.

The February fatality rate represented a turnaround from the previous month in which there were no catastrophic injuries at Turfway, which has an artificial Polytrack racing surface. The lack of any fatalities in January also represented a radical departure from the previous month, when there were eight such breakdowns during Turfway’s holiday meet, which began in late November and ran through December.

In response to the holiday meet fatality rate, Turfway instituted a number of changes, including an overturn of a previous ban on the use of rear-shoe toe grabs. The track also focused more on its track maintenance program as a way of alleviating the problem.

Peckham and Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the state of Kentucky, both cautioned against trying to draw a correlation to track condition or any other definitive factors as a cause for the increase in breakdowns. They said detailed reports of the type of injuries and location on the track where the injuries were detected would be reviewed to look for some commonality.

No representatives of Turfway addressed the increase in breakdowns at the meeting.

In other action, the commission approved a request from Churchill Downs to add one more race to the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby programs this year. As a result, there will be 12 races on Oaks day and 13 on Derby day. The first race each day will be at 10:30 a.m. EDT, rather than the previously scheduled first post of 11 a.m.

Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned whether there would be a sufficient number of horses stabled at Churchill to fill the two additional races.

Churchill general manager Jim Gates said the track had gauged the potential horse population that will be available for those days and concluded that the races would fill. While some commissioners questioned whether the additional races would diminish the number of entries during the post-Derby week cards at Churchill, others opined that it would behoove Churchill to take advantage of the large number of bettors who would be wagering on the Oaks and Derby cards but not other days.

The commission took no action on a proposal to increase jockeys’ fees on losing mounts. Commissioner Ned Bonnie recommended an increase of $15 in the fee for losing mounts. The recommended amount, half of the $30 hike requested by the Jockeys’ Guild, was agreed upon during meetings between a KHRC committee, representatives of the Guild, and the Kentucky HBPA.

However, just before the commission was set to approve the recommendation, the Kentucky HBPA was notified by its general counsel that the horsemen’s group was not required to approve any agreements pertaining to jockey mount fees.