HISA Review Finds A Multitude of Factors Contributed to Saratoga Fatalities

Sarah Andrew

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The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) on Thursday released the report covering its investigation of the rash of fatalities that occurred during the 2023 Saratoga meet. The report found some factors that may have contributed to the fatalities, while also concluding that there was no link that covered all 14 deaths.

“This report concludes that there are a multitude of risk factors that likely contributed to the fatalities during the 2023 Meet. These findings will drive HISA's data collection, recommended racetrack practices and regulatory scheme going forward.” the report concluded.

HISA examined several factors, including the racetrack surfaces, the potential impact of weather, the veterinary histories of the horses that broke down and the necropsy reports that were done following their deaths, the exercise history of each horse and a review of any potential HISA rule violations that may have contributed to the injuries.

The closest HISA came to pointing a finger at one particular factor was its conclusion that weather may have played a role. It was a particularly wet meet at Saratoga with 11.03 inches of rain coming down during the racing season. In 2022, 7.76 inches of rain fell.

“…the significantly increased rainfall during the 2023 Meet compared to previous years cannot be overlooked and available data suggests that the rainfall could have played a role in the increased risk of fatal injury during the 2023 Meet,” the report read. “HISA is working cooperatively with the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory to collect and analyze additional track surface data to better understand the effects of weather on racetrack maintenance.”

Three of the 11 horses that suffered  fatal musculoskeletal injuries received corticosteroid injections in the affected joint within 30 days of racing. HISA is in the process of trying to change its rules regarding corticosteroids so that they cannot be injected into a horse within 30 days of it racing.

HISA also discovered that there may be red flags associated with horses who undergo an excessive amount of exercise.

“…an analysis of the exercise histories of the deceased horses showed that horses having participated in more frequent high intensity exercise and furlongs were 2.5 times more likely than the control group to be injured.”

The report also found that one of the horses that suffered a fatal injury was on the veterinarians list as unsound at the time of the injury. Two others had previously spent time on the vets list.

Following the report, NYRA Vice President for Communications Pat McKenna issued a statement, which read: “Continuously improving equine safety is a fundamental responsibility shared among racetrack operators, regulators, trainers, breeders and owners. HISA's review of the 2023 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course enhances our understanding of the myriad factors that may contribute to injuries sustained during training or racing.”

“To prevent serious injuries before they happen, NYRA is embracing science and technology to provide veterinarians and trainers with the tools necessary to identify underlying conditions and further reduce the frequency of equine injuries. Beyond the adoption of biometric wearables and artificial intelligence, NYRA is working with the University of Kentucky and Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory to expand our understanding of how weather conditions impact racetrack performance. Ensuring the safety of horses and jockeys competing on the NYRA circuit is our highest priority, and we thank HISA for investing the time and resources to develop an informative review of the 2023 summer meet.”

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