Track deaths trigger creation of new veterinary role

Twenty-one horses died at Aqueduct over a four-month period last winter.
Twenty-one horses died at Aqueduct over a four-month period in winter 2012, prompting a Health and Safety report on racehorses.

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) has established the position of equine veterinary medical director following recent horse deaths on the inner track at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The new director will establish the Mortality Review Board, as recommended in the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety report issued late last September. The director will also make ongoing assessments to improve the health and safety of horses competing at NYRA racetracks.

Additionally, the association has begun to transport all euthanized horses to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell for complete necropsies.

It said the actions were to address the recent catastrophic breakdowns at Aqueduct Racetrack. Four horses – El Macho (December 13, Race 1), Bomber Boy (January 6, Race 7), Wildcat’s Smile (January 6, Race 8) and Pleasantfriday (January 10, Race 5) – were injured and euthanized since racing began on the inner track on December 12.

Racing on the inner track at Aqueduct is scheduled at this time to continue until March 30, though an earlier move to the main track would be considered, weather permitting.

“NYRA is taking immediate steps to try to prevent more catastrophic injuries from occurring,” said association chairman David Skorton. “We are establishing a new position, equine veterinary medical director, to be in charge of the health and safety of horses at all NYRA tracks and direct investigations into these unfortunate events.

“In addition to these immediate actions, we will soon be making decisions on several specific operational issues in the interest of equine health and safety.”

Anthony Bonomo, chairman of the association’s Equine Health and Safety Committee, said: “Addressing the problem of breakdowns at NYRA is our first priority. We will do everything to protect the jockeys and the horses.”

The association’s veterinary department will report to the new director, who will be based on-track at NYRA facilities.

Under newly established on-track standard operating procedures, complete necropsies will now be performed at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell by a board-certified pathologist with medical records and history from the equine veterinary medical director and NYRA attending veterinarians.

These necropsy reports will be incorporated into a new NYRA database that tracks all injuries and mortalities occurring on NYRA tracks, and will comprise a component of the investigation of each fatality by NYRA’s new Mortality Review Board.

Association president and chief operating officer Ellen McClain said: “The appointment of the equine veterinary medical director clears the way to establish a NYRA Mortality Review Board, one of the key recommendations of the Task Force.

“These new steps will add to a number of recommendations NYRA has implemented during the three months since the Task Force released its report.

“A major step forward is the development of electronic record keeping. We are aggregating moisture content, weather data and other maintenance information in a single database. Working with industry experts, we are developing the nation’s most sophisticated method of data collection, which will ultimately enable evaluation of injuries in the context of track conditions.”

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