COVID-19 paused the racing season – and disrupted racehorse training routines.
| Rockland/Westchester Journal News
A 10-year high in horseracing deaths at Belmont Park was higher than it seemed.
Some 52 horses died in total at the Triple Crown track last year – one more than the total that appeared last week in New York State’s Equine Death and Breakdown Database.
The state Gaming Commission, which regulates racing in New York, confirmed it had temporarily left off the late thoroughbred Blackjack because of a debate over the animal’s cause of death.
The total number of racehorses that died at Belmont in 2020 was the most at the park in Elmont, Long Island, since 2010 when 65 horses died there. The total includes seven racing-related deaths, 27 training-related deaths and 18 deaths categorized as “other” that could include illnesses such as colic.
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Blackjack was euthanized Oct. 9 and was initially on the database but later removed because of uncertainty whether its death should be classified as training related or “other,” said Brad Maione, a spokesman for the commission.
As of Tuesday, the horse had been added back to the database and categorized as “other.”
Belmont is operated by the New York Racing Association, which also runs Aqueduct Racetrack and Saratoga Race Course. Aqueduct no longer hosts training at the track and much of that has been transferred to Belmont, but the change alone doesn’t account for the uptick.
The number of deaths at all three NYRA tracks combined also hit a 10-year high in 2020, a year when the racing season was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. State and track officials are investigating how a coronavirus shutdown from March 19 to June 3 affected training patterns and may have contributed to an increase in injuries.
NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna said the association is working with state officials to analyze the effects of the slowdown on certain horses stabled at Belmont, particularly younger horses.
The health and welfare of horses and jockeys is NYRA’s top priority and “stands above all other considerations,” McKenna said.
“As always, NYRA continuously evaluates all aspects of the operation to ensure that we are providing the safest possible environment for training and racing at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack,” he said.
The association renovated its main track at Saratoga last year and is in the process of upgrading and widening a training track there, McKenna said. NYRA has been supportive of safety reforms in the industry, he said, and this year has banned the anti-bleeding drug Lasix from all horses running in stakes races.
Statewide, the total number of deaths at all 11 New York tracks was 97 – one fewer than was logged in each of 2018 and 2019. Before 2018, there were at least 100 deaths statewide each year with a high of more than 200 in 2012.
Mark Lungariello covers government and politics. Follow him on Facebook @lungariello and Twitter @marklungariello.