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Racing fatalities decline

January 09, 2007|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

After a year of growing concern over catastrophic injuries in thoroughbred horse racing, new statistics indicate a slight drop in racing and training fatalities in California for 2006, offering the first sign that the unexplained rise has leveled off, according to Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board.

"We've certainly stopped the trend," Arthur said Monday. "Now what we need to do is address the underlying problems."

During the 2004-05 racing season, there were 154 racing fatalities in California and 99 training fatalities, an increase of 50% in a two-year period, according to CHRB statistics.

Arthur said racing and training fatalities dropped slightly last year, though he declined to reveal the specific numbers pending their release later this week by the CHRB.

"I would be horrified if it had gone up, as it had the last few years," he said. "This is certainly a step in the right direction. Our goal is to decrease this over time."

California is one of the few states that compiles injury statistics through its postmortem program, which has been going on since 1990.

Critical to the CHRB strategy is a mandate that the major thoroughbred tracks in California switch to synthetic racing surfaces by the end of this year.

Hollywood Park made the switch last summer and early results on its new Cushion Track were encouraging. During the track's 36-day fall meeting, no horses were euthanized because of injuries suffered in races. Three horses were euthanized during training on the Cushion Track.

"Whatever caused this [previous] jump in injuries, it clearly wasn't an ongoing process," Arthur said. "We still don't understand why they were there in the first place. We have stopped the increase. That's what these statistics indicated. Now we have to correct the problem."

Catastrophic injuries among horses became a national issue last year after Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro suffered a career-ending injury in the Preakness.

During the annual Del Mar meeting, seven horses in the first eight days of the summer race season were put down because of catastrophic injuries.

"We want it to go down 50% in the next two years," Arthur said. "The status quo is not good enough."

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