Shadows Over The Preakness
Compiled by Nancy Brannon
There was tremendous joy on Saturday May 18, 2019 for War of Will trainer Mark Casse, jockey Tyler Gaffalione, and owner Gary Barber, but there was no joy for others at Pimlico over the Preakness weekend. On Friday, May 17, 2019, Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico Race Course, Congrats Gal, a 3-year-old filly running in the Miss Preakness Stakes, collapsed and died on the track just after crossing the wire in the eighth race of the day. The filly “faltered in the upper stretch … in 83-degree heat and was eased to the finish line.” She “fell to the dirt about 100 yards past the finish line,” where the medical team rushed to the scene, and where the horse died. Speculation was that the horse had a heart attack, but the cause of death will be determined by a necropsy, according to a report in the Washington Post by David Ginsburg, Associated Press.
“Congrats Gal’s death cast a dark shadow over Saturday’s $1.5 million Preakness,” wrote Dave Sheinin and Jacob Bogage in Friday’s Washington Post. The race was already without Kentucky Derby winner Country House, the first Derby champion in 23 years to skip the Preakness, as well as Maximum Security, the horse that crossed the finish line first at Churchill Downs, only to be disqualified after a 22-minute review by race stewards. At the Kentucky Derby, War of Will was one of the three horses whose progress was impeded by the “incident” with Maximum Security. He had been a close second when Maximum Security veered off the rail.
The death of the filly at Pimlico came as the 24th race horse died at Santa Anita race track, also on that Friday. A 3-year-old gelding named Commander Coil broke down with a shoulder injury while galloping at the track and was euthanized in Arcadia, California, reported the New York Post and The New York Times on May 18, 2019. Both Pimlico and Santa Anita tracks are owned by the Stronach Group.
Then on May 26, the New York Times reported that a 9-year-old gelding named Kochees became the 26th fatality at Santa Anita since Dec. 26, 2018 and the third in nine days. He sustained an injury to his left front leg in the sixth race on Saturday, May 25 and was taken off the track by van. He was euthanized on Sunday, reported Joe Drape in the New York Times. The other death was a 3-year-old gelding, Spectacular Music, who sustained a rare pelvic injury while racing near the half-mile pole on Sunday.
The deaths of 26 race horses at Santa Anita have been a concern to animal rights groups as well as the horse racing establishment. Track conditions were one factor that was evaluated in trying to determine one of probably multiple causes, as was the weather with excessive rain. During a two-day pause of training on the main track February 26-27, Santa Anita brought in Mick Peterson, director of Ag Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky and a racetrack surfaces specialist, to analyze and evaluate the safety of the surface.
ESPN reported on track conditions at Pimlico: “With more than $4 million in renovations needed at Pimlico Race Course, it’s possible this Preakness Stakes was the last at the dilapidated racetrack, where the Preakness has been held since 1873. Almost 7,000 seats were closed for safety reasons on Saturday, and after multiple plumbing issues both earlier in the week and on race day, the lines for the restrooms were longer than the betting lines…”
On March 14, The Stronach Group declared zero tolerance for race-day medication at its California tracks, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, after 22 equine deaths either racing or training at Santa Anita. Live racing resumed at Santa Anita March 29. But only three days after racing had resumed, the 23rd horse fatality in three months occurred at Santa Anita.
“On March 28, 2019, The Jockey Club published a major white paper—Vision 2025, To Prosper, Horse Racing Needs Comprehensive Reform—outlining the need for reforms and specific recommendations, including passage of H.R. 1754, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019,” reported The BloodHorse. “In addition to reforming how drugs are used and monitored,” the Jockey Club’s other reform proposals include: enhanced race surface analysis; reporting of all injuries during racing and training; more comprehensive pre-race veterinarian examination; use of approved medications only; confirmed fitness to train; and industry-contributions to aftercare.”
In an April 1 press release, the Jockey Club called for extensive reforms. While there had been focus on track surfaces, “the core of the problem lies in a fundamentally flawed system that falls far short of international horse racing standards…” reported The BloodHorse.
“Chief among the principles that make up the standards of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) are those guiding the development of an effective anti-doping program and the regulation of the use of performance-enhancing drugs and drugs that can mask injuries, both of which can result in injuries and deaths. Under IFHA policies, commonly used therapeutic medications capable of masking pain and other symptoms of discomfort must be withdrawn days or even weeks prior to the race, as compared to hours before the race in the U.S. IFHA policies also encourage rest to recover from injuries, as opposed to policies here that facilitate treatment so training can continue, imperiling both horse and rider,” according to The Bloodhorse.
“U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), and Andy Barr (R-Ky.), congressmen representing Saratoga Springs and Lexington, respectively, introduced on March 14, 2019 the Horseracing Integrity Act to create a uniform national standard for drug testing in racehorses that would be overseen by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency,” according to The BloodHorse. “The Horseracing Integrity Act is backed by the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, a diverse group of 18 members that includes racing organizations, racetracks, owner and breeder associations, and animal welfare groups that support adoption of a national uniform standard for drug and medication rules in horse racing.
“H.R. 1754 is nearly identical to the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2017 (H.R. 2651)—also introduced by Reps. Barr and Tonko—which garnered the bipartisan support of more than 130 representatives last Congress.
“Under existing law, the American horse racing industry is regulated state by state, which has created inconsistent rules regarding medication use and enforcement across 38 U.S. racing jurisdictions,” information from The BloodHorse.
However, Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which promotes integration of the National Uniform Medication Program, had criticism for the bill. “The sponsors of this legislation have proposed nothing to address the significant part of the racehorse industry that is totally unregulated,” Martin wrote in a prepared statement, quoted in The Bloodhorse. “We already know stress fractures can be a precursor to increased risk of a catastrophic breakdown. This issue was presented to lawmakers at the public hearing on this proposal in the last Congress, yet they continue to focus on repealing a long-standing equine welfare program permitting a controlled furosemide administration on race day proven to be helpful to the health of the horse and recently affirmed by a consensus statement from the independent American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.”
“During a subcommittee hearing last year, Martin said he proposed all racehorses be registered and come under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and give APHIS the authority to make rules affecting young horses not yet under the jurisdiction of state commissions and conduct out-of-competition testing,” reported The BloodHorse.
Nowhere in all the calls for racing reform, whether by the Jockey Club or animal welfare groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. or Animal Wellness Action, is the question of whether two- and three-year old horses are sufficiently physically developed for the stress and demands of racing.
Allen, Karna. 2019. “Third Horse in 9 days Dies at California’s Santa Anita Racetrack.” ABC News. May 26. https://abcnews.go.com/US/3rd-horse-days-dies-californias-santa-anita-racetrack/story?id=63297287
Drape, Joe. 2019. “Another Horse Dies at Santa Anita Park.” The New York Times. May 26.
Ginsburg, David. 2019. “Filly dies on track at Pimlico the day before Preakness.” The Washington Post. May 18.
Sheinin, Dave and Jacob Bogage. 2019. “Horse dies at Pimlico after finishing race on the day before Preakness.” The Washington Post. May 17.
“The Jockey Club Repeats its Call for Major Reform.” Bloodhorse. April 1, 2019. https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/232778/the-jockey-club-calls-for-comprehensive-reforms
“The Jockey Club Calls for Comprehensive Reforms.” Bloodhorse. March 28, 2019. https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/232778/the-jockey-club-calls-for-comprehensive-reforms
“Reps. Barr, Tonko Reintroduce Horseracing Integrity Act. Bloodhorse. March 14, 2019. https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/232536/reps-barr-tonko-reintroduce-horseracing-integrity-act
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