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Oaklawn Equine Deaths


Maiden Win, Churchill Downs, June 15, 2019 (photo by Coady Photography)

(Coady Photography)

Workout at Oaklawn Park
Info from Marty Irby, Animal Wellness Action, and other sources

It is with great sadness that we report news of additional Thoroughbred racehorse deaths at U.S. tracks, these from Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AR.

A potential solution to the problems for racehorses awaits passage in Congress: The Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 1754, led by U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Andy Barr (R-KY) in the House and S. 1820, led by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) in the Senate. The bill would create a private, independent national horse racing anti-doping authority responsible for developing and administering a strict anti-doping and medication control program. Horse racing is currently regulated by 38 different racing jurisdictions.

Another equine death in American horseracing came on Sunday, February 2, 2020 at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In race number four, a four-year-old named Spirogyra “had to be euthanized due to catastrophic injuries,” according to the Daily Racing Form. Further data from Equibase shows the horse fell at the half mile pole and was “vanned off” from the track. The horse had the number one spot in the six furlong, $16,000 Waiver Claiming race. Trainer is Genaro Garcia; owner is Southwest Racing Stables, Inc.

The Daily Racing Form reported: “Jockey Fernando De La Cruz escaped serious injury in a one-horse spill Sunday at Oaklawn Park, according to Bernie Hettel, the state steward at Oaklawn. His mount, Spirogyra, had to be euthanized due to catastrophic injuries, Hettel confirmed. 

“De La Cruz was thrown to the ground approaching the half-mile pole of the $16,000 conditioned claiming sprint at six furlongs, while racing along the rail. De La Cruz remained on the ground for a while and Hettel said attending medical staff reported he had his wind knocked out of him. He has been cleared to ride. 

“Spirogyra was a 4-year-old son of Verrazano who was coming off a win in a $15,000 conditioned claiming race at Turfway Park on Dec. 21. He had been claimed three times in his nine-race career in which he earned $80,216.”

Devil’s Drama
The next injury came over Valentines weekend. According to Equibase (, in Race 6 on Saturday Feb. 15, 2020 at Oaklawn, a 3-year-old colt named Devil’s Drama, ridden by Stewart Elliott, “backed off the pace and the inside, pulled up in apparent distress onto the backstretch, vanned off.” Equibase further lists the medications horses in the race were given and L (for Lasix) is by every horse’s name in the race. The jockey was Stewart Elliott and trainer is Joe Sharp; owner Dana Aschinger. The horse was foaled February 22, 2017. We could not find information about the nature or outcome of this horse’s injury. Horse Racing Wrongs and Equibase simple list the horse as “vanned off” the track.

We received word via email from the Arkansas Racing Commission on March 4, 2020 that “the injuries to ‘Devil’s Drama’ were so severe, the horse was euthanized on February 15.  A blood sample was taken from the horse, but the results of any tests will not be made public unless there is a rules violation, which would be announced in a Stewards Ruling.”

The next fatality came on Monday February 17, when three-year-old filly Taraz was euthanized after suffering a catastrophic injury while training at Oaklawn. According to, “On Monday Taraz severely fractured her left front pastern while working at Oaklawn. According to a release from Juddmonte, Taraz was transported to the barn where X-rays were taken and reviewed, with the attending veterinarian consulting with equine surgeon Dr. Bob Hunt of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute. After consulting with [trainer Brad] Cox, Juddmonte management, and the veterinarians, it was determined that given the extreme nature of the damage to the bone and the blood supply being compromised, it would be impractical to attempt to repair the injury, and the filly was euthanized.”

Unbeaten in three starts, Taraz was quickly being considered a leading candidate for the Kentucky Oaks. She won the Martha Washington Stakes on Feb. 1 at Oaklawn by nearly four lengths. Her connections were pointing her toward the Grade III Honeybee Stakes, an Oaks prep, on March 7 for her next race.

Press information from Oaklawn points to a promising filly. Jennifer Hoyt, Media Relations Manager for Oaklawn, wrote in a press release on Jan. 30, 2020: “Literally and figuratively, Taraz has towered over her opposition since Day 1, winning her first two career starts by a combined 18 ¾ lengths. But, a new year brings a new challenge for Taraz, a physically imposing homebred for famed Juddmonte Farms, Inc. who is scheduled to make her 2020 and two-turn debut in the $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Saturday at Oaklawn.

“Taraz, a daughter of sire Into Mischief, won her career debut by 7½ lengths Nov. 14 at Churchill Downs and the $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes Dec. 21 at Fair Grounds by 11¼ gate-to-wire lengths.”

Then on Feb. 1, Hoyt wrote: “Juddmonte Farms, Inc.’s Taraz is already a heavyweight, but she proved light on her feet as she waltzed to an easy victory in Saturday’s $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn, pushing her record to 3-for-3.

“The 3-year-old filly is already big for her age, and she used that size to power to the lead despite starting a step slow in the four-horse race. She took jockey Florent Geroux to the front after a furlong and was never threatened for the rest of the one mile contest. She won by 3¾ lengths over O Seraphina in 1:38:64.”

Then on Feb. 5, Hoyt wrote: “Unbeaten Taraz returned to the track Wednesday morning at Oaklawn to begin preparations for her next scheduled start in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies March 7.”

On Feb. 12, Hoyt wrote: “Unbeaten Taraz (3 for 3) returned to the work tab Tuesday morning, covering a half-mile in :47.80 over a good track for trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owner Juddmonte Farms. Taraz has been based at Oaklawn since Jan. 28.”

We made repeated attempts to contact Jennifer Hoyt at Oaklawn for more information, both by phone and by email; Hoyt never answered either her office phone or her cell phone and did not respond to any of our email requests. We were able to contact Wendy Brocato of the Arkansas Racing Commission, whose office is at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark. But she told us that she knew nothing about what was happening out there in the barns, as she was simply there to license people and collect money for the state. She referred us to Smokey Campbell, manager of the Arkansas Racing Division in Little Rock. We called his office and left messages, but he did not return our phone calls.

We received am email response from the Arkansas Racing Commission on March 4, 2020. It read:

“The Arkansas Racing Commission does operate the test barn at Oaklawn under the supervision of the Commission Veterinarian.  At least two horses are tested following each race, and three horses are tested in each stakes race.  Horses are also tested if the Stewards, or any other racing officials, request a test.  Urine / blood samples are sent to the Truesdail Laboratories, where they are tested for approximately 1,800 different drugs and drug classifications.  The Commission does not reveal the specifics of the drugs for which Truesdail conducts a chemical analysis.  If the Commission’s lab revealed all of the drugs it tests for, it could aid those who might attempt to break the rules.  Arkansas has adopted the Association of Racing Commissioners International Uniform Classification for Foreign Substances.  ARC Rule 1216 prohibits the administration of any drug, narcotic, stimulant, tranquilizer, depressant, local anesthetic, steroid, NSAIDS or any substance which interferes with recognized testing procedures within 24 hours of the scheduled post time of a race.  The only exception to this Rule is the administration of Lasix, which is governed by a separate Rule.

“The Arkansas Racing Commission employs a full-time licensed veterinarian, and the Commission Vet has three full-time assistant vets and one part-time assistant vet who work under the Commission Vet.  The Commission Vet or one of his assistants examine any horse entered to run that has not raced in six months.  The vet and assistants also do a pre-race exam on all horses entered to run on the morning prior to the race.  The pre-race exams include watching the horse walk and jog and include a hands-on physical exam.”

The 2020 Rules and Regulations Governing Horse Racing in Arkansas can be accessed at:
Rampellini, Mary. 2020. “Fernando De La Cruz escapes injury in fourth-race spill at Oaklawn.” Daily Racing Form. Feb. 2.
Equibase. Oaklawn Park – February 2, 2020 – Race 4.
Equibase. Oaklawn Park – February 15, 2020 – Race 6.
Angst, Frank. 2020. Stakes-Winning Filly Taraz Suffers Catastrophic Injury. Bloodhorse. Feb. 17.
Hoyt, Jennifer, Oaklawn Media Relations Manager. Email press releases to the Mid-South Horse Review.

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