Racing’s next catastrophic breakdown hotspot: Could be anywhere, are we prepared?

Dear Mr. or Ms. Racetrack Operator,

Do you think you will emerge unscathed from a media onslaught regarding equine fatalities?

Do you think because your track’s equine fatality rate is consistent with the industry average that you will be immune to criticism?

Do you think a midsize track such as yours will not draw any scrutiny on this issue?

Think again.

The one thing certain about the next catastrophic breakdown hotspot is its unpredictability. Where will the next spill or series of breakdowns occur that captures the attention of the media?

The media attention that began with the equine fatality troubles at Santa Anita Park has spread like a California wildfire. Unfortunately, this feeding frenzy has not limited itself to the Golden State and it’s likely to consume everything in its path. That’s because horses dying at the track happens everywhere.

Will you be the next track in its path?

All it takes is a tip from an animal welfare group or a journalist with a little bit of initiative and the next thing you know, you are answering questions by local and national media outlets. That’s because racing’s media landscape has changed. We are now on everyone’s radar.

Evidently, a tipping point has been reached. Horse racing now resides within the media’s collective consciousness, at least when it comes to animal welfare issues. The media has found that its readers/viewers are interested in this topic. Unfortunately, there is plenty of opportunity for such coverage.

Lone Star Park

On June 8, 2019, a 3-year-old gelding named Moro Chief broke down in a $7,500 claiming race, causing a spill in mid-stretch. Before the week was over the media hammered Lone Star, and deservedly so.

Ray Paulick, from a post on June 12, 2019, picks it up from here: Fans who attended Lone Star that afternoon and saw Moro Chief being taken off the track in the horse ambulance began asking questions on the racetrack's Facebook page. One of them said inquiries about the incident were being deleted. Two days later, after the questioning intensified, Lone Star Park confirmed on Facebook that Moro Chief had been euthanized.

That night, the Dallas ABC television affiliate, WFAA, posted an article on its website about Moro Chief's death. Within the article was a video commentary taped in March about the Santa Anita crisis by WFAA anchor Mike Leslie, an admitted racing fan who grew up minutes from Saratoga racetrack in upstate New York. Leslie raised questions about the future of the sport and whether or not he can defend it any longer.

On Tuesday, the website for the Dallas Morning News ran its own article about Moro Chief, the headline reading: “Fans Demand Answers After Horse Falls During Race, Is Euthanized At Lone Star Park In Grand Prairie.”

To Lone Star’s credit, they do make their equine fatality data publicly available on The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, and their 5-year average fatality rate is below the industry average. But, by failing to immediately acknowledge the fatality of Moro Chief, they did more than prolong the story — they created the story!

Solution: transparency and reform

Every track has a story to tell about equine fatalities.

What’s yours?

Is your fatality rate high or low? Do you make the data public, or do you play “hide and seek” with inquiring minds?

Fans and the media want answers and they want them now! (I mean, they want them when they ask for them.) Any delay on your part only prolongs the story, may become a story, and leaves everyone with the impression that you have something to hide or you simply don’t care.

That means you should prepare your response NOW. Don’t wait until your inbox blows up!

Being prepared and transparent is only the first step. What are you doing to make things better?

If you are not doing everything possible to minimize equine fatalities, you are not doing enough.

Are you being proactive? Have you gone on record to support Stronach-like reforms in your state? I mean, disclosure of veterinary records, a race-day medication ban (Lasix), whipping ban, etc.?

Have you stood up to support the Horseracing Integrity Act? The reforms that would come into effect with the legislation would make racing safer and are favored by both the general public and your racing fans.

You might think that some of these reforms are unrelated to equine fatalities. Maybe so, but they are not unrelated to animal welfare, and that is the lens through which the public views your racetrack.

The future of your track is in your hands.

My sincerest wishes for a safe race meet.

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