Zero Tolerance for Race Horse Deaths, in Training and On the Track
National Communications Coordinator
In May following the death of seven Thoroughbreds in the 10 days leading up to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and one horse at Pimlico, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy called on industry leaders to embrace the goal of “no young, healthy horses dying on tracks in training or competition.”
The sport’s new national governing body — the Horseracing Safety and Integrity Authority (Authority) — begins implementation of a national race-day antidoping regulatory plan May 22. That plan will bring long-needed uniformity to a patchwork system of regulatory control built around the work of 38 distinct state horse racing commissions. The Authority also has broad authority to institute changes to improve horse safety at Thoroughbred tracks.
Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy are calling for a culture change within the industry and specific actions by the Authority to reduce on-track deaths of otherwise healthy horses with
- Robust enforcement of the race-day doping prohibitions, with meaningful national suspensions and other penalties for violators of the rules.
- Banning the use of the whip in American racing.
- Developing a plan to hold trainers and owners accountable to reduce death rates for racing horses to levels approaching zero, with appropriate national suspensions for trainers whose horses die at the tracks.
“The moon shot for the industry is to achieve a zero tolerance for on-track deaths,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “A ban on reckless doping is just one key element of getting to zero deaths. It will also require breeding of horses for soundness, keeping unfit horses out of competition, and committing to making proper veterinary assessments in real time to safeguard the well-being of the animals.
“By creating the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, Congress has provided a mandate for protecting horses in American racing,” he added. “Horse safety at the tracks should become the top priority for everyone involved in the business.”
Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy had earlier this month urged the management at Churchill Downs to deny a racing slot to Saffie Joseph Jr. because two of his horses — Parents Pride and Chasing Artie — died for unexplained reasons this week in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby.
He was suspended, and our call was picked up by news media across the country.
And following the Preakness, with a win by Bob Baffert’s horse National Treasure, Animal Wellness Action questioned whether he should have been excluded from Pimlico, because of his two-year suspension from Churchill Downs after his horse failed a drug test.
And hours before the Preakness Stakes, Bob Baffert’s horse Havnameltdown suffered an injury on his left front ankle during an undercard race. The three-year-old colt had to be euthanized on the track, and the Maryland Racing Commission is now leading an investigation into his death.
“Pimlico’s decision to allow him to run multiple horses at its track is a reflection of the long-standing compartmentalizing of racing rules and suspensions. That era of balkanized regulatory authority must end, said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “And it’s time for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority not only to put rules in place but to create new norms in the industry. There should be an aspiration for zero deaths of young, healthy horses on America’s tracks.”
Animal Wellness Action is conducting an educational seminar on racing-related horse deaths Thursday, June 8, at 8 p.m. Seats are still available. Learn more and register here. If you miss the event, it will be available on our YouTube channel by the end of the day Friday, June 9.
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… hours before the Preakness Stakes, Bob Baffert’s horse Havnameltdown suffered an injury on his left front ankle during an undercard race. The three-year-old colt had to be euthanized on the track, and the Maryland Racing Commission is now leading an investigation into his death.