University Experts Have Begun Reviewing Injury Statistics
Phoenix-based Turf Paradise, Arizona’s largest horseracing track, has initiated a new protocol to address an unfortunate and as yet unexplained increase in equine injuries.
Starting March 18th, all horses racing on a given day will receive pre-race veterinary exams. The new policy is part of the track’s efforts to provide the safest conditions possible for horses and riders. Previously, about 15 horses received pre-race exams per day based on recommendations made by the stewards. By expanding this to ALL horses racing on a given day, this will result in about 65 horses being examined on race days.
Turf Paradise General Manager Vince Francia said, “We feel this practice of pre-race exams has already proved beneficial and we want to amp it to include all horses on any given race day to come under veterinary inspections.”
** Samples of the track surface have also been reviewed by one of the nations’ leading experts on racetrack conditions, Dr. Michael Peterson of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory in Kentucky. The lab, which operates as part of the University of Kentucky’s Ag Equine Programs, was sent samples of the dirt track and a lab analysis found it to be uniform, which is the goal for any racetrack. The study did find the balance was slightly off with respect to sand content, but this is a recent occurrence brought about by recent rains and is not related to last season’s injury spike. More sand has been added to correct the problem. Future track soil samples will be sent to Peterson’s lab every 15 days or following major rains.
In addition, a team of statisticians is looking over racetrack data to look for less obvious causes and factors related to equine injuries. The study is being conducted by Northern Arizona University’s Alliance Bank Economic Policy Institute, Arizona State University Assistant Professor of Math and Statistical Science Dr. Yi Zheng, and the Statport Group which is a private sector company with expertise in data analysis and equine insurance.
As recently as the 2015/2016 season the fatality rate was within industry norms. It experienced an increase in the 2017/18 season has been seeking solutions and taking proactive steps to address the problem.
Although there has been no clear connection between flat track motorcycle racing which takes place after the meet and the increase in horse deaths, in an abundance of caution the track will not be hosting the event.
Turf Paradise has some of the strictest drug testing polices in the nation which were recently enacted at the urging of General Manager Vince Francia. When equine herpes virus starting impacting tracks nationwide, Turf Paradise and Francia took aggressive measures and successfully prevented a widespread outbreak at Turf.
Turf Paradise is one of a handful of racetracks that operates an onsite equine therapy swimming pool with the goal of reducing on track injuries. It recently purchased new machinery to groom the dirt tracks and has consistently remained vigilant when it comes to track safety. That includes regular inspections of the dirt and grass tracks, regular meetings held by industry experts, and post mortem equine exams.
Turf Paradise General Manager Vince Francia said, “Our goal is to learn why we saw an increase last year and take decisive action now to prevent more equine injuries this year. Turf Paradise has stayed in business for more than 60 years because of the deep respect it has for the fans, the horsemen (and women), and the majestic animals that make all of this possible.”
**An earlier version of this news release mistakenly implied that Dr. Peterson personally inspected the track. That was not the case. Track soil samples were sent to his lab but Dr. Peterson did not make an onsite inspection. Turf Paradise apologies for the error.