Saratoga trying to curtail horse deaths during season

With background information or without, the number of horse deaths at Saratoga Race Course in 2017 is alarming for everyone.

"Our goal here is to have zero fatalities," said New York State Gaming Commissioner Equine Medical Director Scott Palmer.

As of Friday morning, the gaming commission is investigating 12 horse deaths. Two horses died while training before the meet began. Since opening day, five died while training and five while racing. The majority were euthanized due to catastrophic injury.

Each incident is different, but Dr. Palmer says euthanasia is often needed.

"Whatever we do to that horse to fix it, he has to be able to stand up when we’re done and be functional and that capacity," he said. "A second thing is infection. If a bone comes through the skin and there’s an open fracture where the animal is exposed to infection, the chances of healing that fracture are very compromised."

Palmer says along with other complications, there’s also the chance of a horse developing laminitis, an infection that can be fatal.

Though Palmer says euthanasia is inevitable in some cases, the work never stops to prevent all horse injuries.

"We literally do anything that we can possibly do to eliminate the potential for injury, knowing that the potential for injury is always out there," said New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President Rick Violette.

Violette, a trainer himself, says everything that’s done at the Spa is with horse safety in mind.

"The initiative has to be to try to find out why and how we might be able to avoid it in the future," he said.

Violette is part of that initiative, along with Palmer and Dr. Mick Peterson, a professor at the University of Kentucky who researches race tracks across the country.

"Before they start every race meet, we go in and do a complete review of the material composition, the way the equipment is set up, the maintenance protocols," Peterson said. "We have weather stations at each of the tracks."

On Tuesday, Peterson conducted all those tests again and the results were the same, but the work is far from over.

"None of us are complacent," he noted.

"There is never a single villain, a single common factor that’s responsible for all these things," Palmer said.

But even in those situations, the mission to find better ways to keep all horses safe and happy is neverending.

"Nobody just turns the page and shrugs their shoulders," Violette said.

"Equine welfare is incredibly important, integrity is incredibly important, and safety for the riders and the horses is incredibly important for us," Palmer said.

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