Jeffrey Cannizzo, Executive Director of the New York Breeders Association, wrote a very informative fact-based article for the May-June issue of New York Breeder on how the American racing industry can immediately address the fatal breakdown problem that has caused a crisis. He answers the realistic question “Could racing go the way of Sea World or Greyhound racing?” with “I assure you it’s naïve to think not and dismiss the thought outright.”

Mr. Cannizzo notes that in the wake of the rash of breakdowns at Aqueduct in the winter of 2012, the Governor’s Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety crafted a plan that “incorporated the establishment of safety best practices, improved methods of identifying horses at increased risk of injury, implemented protective factors to reduce the risk of injury, enhanced information sharing and communication, and improved the general health and welfare of the horse.”

As a result, in 2018, “the incidence of fatal breakdowns in the state was 1.29 per 1,000 starts, the lowest in the state in decades and well below the national average of 1.68 per 1,000 starts.” Aqueduct, for example, reduced fatalities per 1,000 starts from 2.27 in 2009 to 1.57 in 2018.

Mid-Atlantic states that have followed the New York protocols have also experienced a decline in horse fatalities and, given the recent epidemic of fatal breakdowns at Santa Anita, a coalition of racetracks accounting for 90% of U. S. wagering are likely to adopt many of the same now-proven safety measures.

(Click here for the May-June New York Breeder and see some of the specific features in the New York model on page 6.)


One glaring statistic that most of the American racing industry chooses to all but ignore in practice is that dirt racing surfaces are the least safe choice, with 1.86 fatalities per 1,000 starts on dirt in 2018 compared to 1.23 on synthetic surfaces and 1.20 on turf courses. Del Mar, Keeneland, and Santa Anita, in fact, all removed synthetic racetracks and reinstalled dirt. Consequently, public relations releases from the same racetracks ring hollow when the tracks claim to put horse and rider safety first. Dirt racetracks are worst practices not best practices.

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