Turf Paradise Press Release:
Phoenix-based Turf Paradise announced March 6 track management initiated a new plan to address an unexplained increase in equine injuries.
Starting March 18, 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 selections made by the stewards. Expanding this to all horses racing on a given day will result in about 65 horses being examined on race days.
Turf Paradise general manager Vince Francia said, “Horses are family to us; to lose one horse, is one too many. 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.”
The track has also been inspected 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, did an extensive study of the dirt track and found it to be consistent throughout the one mile circumference, which is the goal for any racetrack. The study did find the balance was slightly off with respect to sand to clay content, but this is an 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.
In addition, a team of statisticians is looking over racetrack fatality data from the 2017-18 race meet, when fatalities spiked, 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.
“We felt fresh eyes from a different field other than racing might discover a pattern that we’re missing because we’re so close to the issue,” said Francia
As recently as the 2015-16 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.
“So far this season, we’ve had less catastrophic injuries due to racing than at this time in 2018,” said Francia. “We recognize the inherent dangers of this sport. However, our goal is zero fatalities.”
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 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, and meetings held by the track, the Division of Racing and veterinarians, reviewing necropsy reports with trainers whose horse suffered a fatality.
“Our goal is to learn why we saw an increase last year and take decisive action now to prevent more equine injuries this year,” said Francia. “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.”