Fatalities Mar Travers Saturday at Saratoga

New York Thunder before the GI H. Allen Jerkens Memorial S. | Sarah Andrew


On a day that was supposed to be a celebration of the Grade I Travers S., a pall was cast over Saturday's card at Saratoga when two horses broke down on the card and had to be euthanized.

Including racing and training, they were the seventh and eighth equine deaths during racing at the meeting. Four horses have died during training.

One Saturday fatality was on the turf, the other on the dirt. Both horses were ridden by Tyler Gaffalione.

Travers Day continued a very difficult stretch for horse racing, beginning with the problems at Churchill Downs during Derby time when a dozen horses died, prompting Churchill to move the remainder of the meeting to Ellis Park. It didn't get any better as the Triple Crown proceeded, with fatalities on both Preakness and Belmont Days as well. Now, with Travers day, four of the biggest racing days of the year have been tainted with deaths of horses on the racetrack in front of stands crowded with fans.

The day's second fatality came in the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial S. on the main track. The undefeated colt New York Thunder (Nyquist) appeared to have the race won as he drew clear of the field nearing the sixteenth pole, but suffered a catastrophic injury to his left forelimb. The race was reminiscent of the GI Test S. in which Maple Leaf Mel (Cross Traffic) was yards away from a win in a Grade I event, only to break down in the shadow of the wire.

New York Thunder was euthanized on the track with a catastrophic injury to his left front fetlock, according to the AAEP on-call veterinarian, Dr. Luis Castro.

“New York Thunder sustained a catastrophic injury to his left front leg in the stretch run of Race 9 on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course,” said a press release from NYRA on the fatalities. “Despite the immediate response of on-site veterinarians, the horse was humanely euthanized due to the severity of the injury. New York Thunder was trained by Jorge Delgado and ridden by Tyler Gafflione, who was uninjured.”

Seven horses have sustained catastrophic injuries during racing at the 2023 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course, which opened on July 13 and has featured 2,461 horses starting in 324 races. One horse (Burning Bright) died suddenly during the running of a race due to a major cardiovascular event.

Irad Ortiz, who won the Jerkens about One in Vermillion (Army Mule), said, “He (New York Thunder) was already a winner I think, to be honest. Unfortunately, that happened. I asked about the rider [Tyler Gaffalione], they say he's okay, so I'm glad Tyler is okay. He's a friend of mine. It's not the way you want it to happen. You don't want to win a Grade I that way, but it is what it is. The horse won, ran a great race. They ran away from me [early], I wait. Deep in the stretch I was closing, I wasn't going to catch the winner. I'm speechless. Nothing you can say about it. It's so sad for everybody who loved this horse.”

“The safety of horses and jockeys competing at Saratoga Race Course is paramount,” said NYRA President & CEO Dave O'Rourke. “NYRA is continuing to investigate these catastrophic injuries with HISA officials, the New York State Gaming Commission, and the New York State Equine Medical Director. We will immediately consult with HISA's Track Surface Advisory Group to further examine the overall condition of all three racing surfaces at Saratoga prior to Sunday's program. In addition, NYRA will convene a group of relevant outside experts to evaluate our current safety protocols and procedures. While NYRA has made meaningful and sustained progress reducing the frequency of serious injuries over the last 10 years, there is always more work to be done to build upon that progress now and in the future.”

New York Thunder, who set splits of 22.29 seconds, 44.40 and 1:08.78 over the muddy and sealed main track, entered the Allen Jerkens undefeated in four starts for owner AMO Racing USA, including a last-out triumph in the GII Amsterdam S. on July 28 at the Spa, providing trainer Jorge Delgado with his third career graded stakes win.

Earlier in the day in the fifth race, Qatar Racing's Nobel (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}), the 9-5 post-time favorite for a 9 1/2-furlong turf allowance on the Travers Day undercard at Saratoga, broke down on the gallop out and was euthanized.

“During the gallop out of Race 5 on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, Nobel (#6) sustained a catastrophic injury to his left front leg,” NYRA Vice President of Communications Patrick McKenna said in a statement. “Despite the immediate response of on-site veterinarians, the horse was humanely euthanized due to the severity of the injury. Nobel was trained by Brendan Walsh and ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, who was uninjured and cleared to ride the remainder of the card.”

Bred by Lord Halifax, Nobel–an 825,000gns Tattersalls October graduate–won his first two starts and three of six overall for trainer Andrew Balding, including a Class 3 handicap over the Newcastle all-weather July 1. He was last seen finishing fourth of 18 in the valuable John Smiths Cup H. at York July 15.

Just this past Wednesday, AJ Suited's Burning Bright suffered an apparent cardiac event during the running of the John's Call S. on the turf, prompting the New York Racing Association to announce that horses would be subject to enhanced veterinary scrutiny beginning Aug. 30. Officials at the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority pledged to work with NYRA and the New York State Gaming Commission to review the recent spate of fatalities.

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