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Del Mar Makes Changes To Turf Track After Horse Deaths

Evening Edition

Aired 7/29/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Del Mar Makes Changes To Turf Track After Horse Deaths

GUEST:

Rick Baedeker is Executive Director of the California Horse Racing Board.

Transcript

Turf racing is expected to return to Del Mar on Wednesday, despite the unusually high number of horses euthanized in the first two weeks of the season. Seven horses have been put down this year, and one horse died from a heart attack before racing began.

Aired 7/29/14 on KPBS News.

Eight horses at the Del Mar Race Track have died in two weeks of racing. Four of the horses were running on the track's turf course when they were injured and eventually euthanized.

Del Mar shifted two turf races on Sunday to the dirt and made other adjustments after the horses' deaths, including two deaths on Saturday.

Four of the deaths have occurred on the seaside track's new turf course, but Mac McBride, the director of media for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said racing officials don't believe the turf course is to blame.

"We believe we have a very good turf course installed," he said. "The response we've had from our riders so far, and if anybody knows anything about that turf course right now, it is our riders, their response on this is universally good. If turf course was the cause of injuries and subsequent deaths with these horses, we would have an insurrection on our hands with our riders. And there isn't a rider in that room that has come to us and said, you know what, that turf course is unsafe, we don't want to ride on it."

As a precaution, the track moved up scheduled maintenance on the turf course to Saturday night instead of the next night as had been planned. The turf also was aerated and watered starting on Sunday to "soften it just a tad," McBride said.

He told KPBS media partner 10News that "everybody here at the race track is feeling terrible" about the euthanized horses.

"It is absolutely the worst part of our game," McBride said.

He said 10 horses were euthanized in 2012 and four last season, compared to the seven horses put down in just two weeks so far this year.

"To be honest, we're not off to a good start," McBride said.

Lil Swiss Echo hurt her right foreleg in the stretch of the fifth race on Saturday, unseating apprentice jockey Drayden Van Dyke. He was taken to a hospital for an exam and later released. In the ninth race, J Kat was pulled up on the far turn by jockey Corey Nakatani with severe injuries to his left foreleg.

Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate was euthanized July 24 after the colt severely injured his leg in a training accident.

A veterinarian at the seaside track said Dance With Fate ruptured two of the three large patella ligaments in his right rear leg.

Dance With Fate was galloping when he bolted to the outside fence near the far turn, crashed into the fence and fell, dumping exercise rider Joe Durant, who was hospitalized with unknown injuries. Dance With Fate was taken by horse ambulance to trainer Peter Eurton's barn, where the colt was put down about 5 1/2 hours later.

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club said it was “deeply saddened by the loss of thoroughbred lives.”

Four of those losses have come on our new turf course. Despite that, we continue to have the utmost confidence in the course, as do our partners in this race meet — the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the Jockeys’ Guild and the California Horse Racing Board — all of whom have expressed that confidence to us today.

Nonetheless, as a precautionary measure, Del Mar will shift the two turf races scheduled for Sunday’s card off the course and run them instead on our main track. Additionally, we will move up scheduled maintenance on the turf course to Saturday evening instead of the Sunday evening schedule that had been planned. The entire course will be aerated and watered starting on Sunday. Track crews will work on it for the next three days and, in the end, reposition the inner rail at the 18-foot position.

Track officials feel that they are adjusting on the side of caution with these moves. They are meant to give all parties involved — riders, trainers, owners and fans — assurance that everything possible is being done to ensure the track’s first priority, which is safety of horses and riders. Those same officials feel strongly that when racing resumes on Wednesday, the turf course will perform in a positive fashion.

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