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Spate of 10 racehorse deaths in 9 days at NY tracks intensifies spotlight on deadly sport

Horse racing at New York tracks like Belmont Park is facing similar scrutiny to Santa Anita after a report of a spate of deaths across the state. (Getty)

In the shadows of the increased scrutiny facing Santa Anita, horses have been dying at an alarming rate at New York race tracks too, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Ten horses died over a span of nine days in July across four New York race tracks, according to the report, bringing East Coast racing into the conversation that has focused on Santa Anita, the Los Angeles-area track that hosts the lucrative Breeder’s Cup and has seen 30 horses die on its grounds this season.

50 total deaths this year in New York

In total, the Democrat and Chronicle points to 50 horse deaths at race tracks in New York since January 2, a group of 11 tracks that includes Belmont Park, which hosts the third leg of horse racing’s coveted Triple Crown.

The death toll includes racing and training incidents as well as “non-racing” causes of death. Twenty-one of those deaths have occurred at Belmont Park, which has a tally of 436 deaths since 2009, making it the deadliest track for horses in New York over that time span, according to the report.

The high-profile death of filly Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby raised alarms about the sport that saw protests at Belmont Park ahead of the Triple Crown finale that year.

But the sport has gone largely unscrutinized in the general public since until Santa Anita was put in the spotlight this year.

The report from New York comes days after news of a pair of deaths at the San Diego-area Del Mar race track last week that occurred when two horses collided during early-morning training.

Death rate is actually decreasing

While the death toll of 50 horses in New York is drawing scrutiny, it’s not a new phenomenon. In fact, the death toll is on pace for a lower rate since the state began keeping records on the matter in 2009.

Between 2009 and 2018, New York totaled 1,357 horse deaths, for an average of 135.7 horse deaths per year, according to the report.

What’s changed is that people are paying attention now, thanks mostly to the spate of deaths at Santa Anita.

The death of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby was cause for protest that year as Belmont hosted the third leg of the Triple Crown. (Getty)

Death is part of the sport

But horse racing has always been deadly and will likely continue to be so.

New York Racing Association executive director David O'Rourke acknowledged as much while speaking with New York Now about safety measures intended to reduce deaths at state tracks.

"I think getting the number to zero is not realistic, but I think creating the safest environment possible is our goal, and that's pretty much the commitment and culture this organization is built around," O’Rourke said.

The report points to a mostly steady decline in horse deaths since a peak of 207 across New York tracks in 2010.

NYRA spokesman Pat McKenna cited track surface upgrades and investment in equipment and technology with the Democrat and Chronicle, calling the sport "safer now than at any point in recent memory.”

What a safer sport in New York looks like in 2019 involves 10 deaths in nine days and a total of 50 since the start of the year.

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