Task Force Evaluating Horse Deaths at Emerald Downs

Emerald Downs has come under scrutiny because seven horses at the Seattle-area racetrack -- six during a two-week period from April 20-May 4 -- were euthanized. Though the number is lower than the historical average, a task force is evaluating the incidents in the hope of reducing the number of catastrophic injuries.

"You can look at these events as an opportunity to learn," said Susie Sourwine, the track's marketing director. "We are evaluating the racing surface, but the horsemen's group, everybody, keeps insisting the track is in wonderful condition."

The task force evolved out of a May 4 meeting between representatives of Emerald Downs, the local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, the Washington Racing Commission, the state breeding association, local veterinarians, and the Jockeys' Guild. The track has since employed an independent engineering firm to evaluate the racing surface and look at its daily grooming schedule.

So far, no common thread ties the injuries together. One horse died of a ruptured artery, two suffered broken cannon bones, two fractured a humerus, one fractured a vertebra, and one broke a tibia. Three of the injuries occurred during or after races, including the one in which Enduring Knight ruptured an artery after he came home last in a race on opening night.

"We believe, as do all of our horsemen, the steps we take on a daily basis are very strong in ensuring the safety of the horses and the riders," Sourwine said. "(But) we're certainly willing to evolve and come up with better ways."

For the second straight year, any horse euthanized on Emerald Downs property will be autopsied at Washington State University's Veterinary School.

Ron Crockett, president of Emerald Downs, is one of 13 members of the task force.