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Meeting held to address unusually high number of horse deaths at Turf Paradise

Turf Paradise - handout
Posted at 5:14 PM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 21:58:40-05

PHOENIX — A total of 24 horses at the Phoenix racetrack Turf Paradise have died from what officials say are several reasons.

“The eyes are on us. It’s not just Turf Paradise, the eyes are on us,” Arizona Racing Commissioner Rory Goree said on the matter at Tuesday’s meeting.

The two dozen horse deaths occurred 68 days into Turf Paradise’s 124-day meet.

And of those, Sue Gale, Chief Veterinarian for Arizona Racing Commission, says, “There have been 11 horses that have suffered catastrophic injuries on the racetrack during races.”

Of the remaining 13, five horses died during training and eight died from other causes like colic or a barn injury.

“That comes out to about a rate of 2.98 per 1,000. So again it’s creeping up a little bit,” Gale says.

That rate is more than double the national average. The “Equine Injury Database” shows a national average of 1.4 horse deaths for every 1,000 starts in 2020.

That’s the lowest it’s been since 2009, when two per 1,000 horses died. Turf Paradise is even outpacing that.

Included in the recent death statistic, a horse named "Creative Plan" that was allowed to run at Turf Paradise on Jan. 7, 2022.

Jenny Earhart, the owner of Premier Equine Rehab in California, bought Creative Plan knowing the horse needed rehab. Earhart says the horse was in worse shape than she thought.

“When we started doing X-rays, that’s when we noticed it was literally just skin holding everything together,” Earhart said.

Creative Plan had to be put down this week.

“We don’t want to lose one horse here, that’s not what our sport is about,” Vincent Francia, General Manager of Turf Paradise Racecourse, told ABC15. "It’s our responsibility as track operators to mitigate every place we can, anything that might be dangerous to the horse... I have to [take responsibility]. I cannot be a general manager and not feel responsible.”

The Arizona Racing Commission says safety is their highest concern. They’ll be making sure Turf Paradise gets new equipment needed to keep the track as safe as possible.

“I’m hopeful that here in the near future we will be able as a commission to talk about some of the solutions and ideas and make Arizona the light it needs to be. That we’re making the change, doing the right thing, instead of being the laughingstock that we are right now nationwide," Goree said in Tuesday’s meeting.

Francia suggests shortening the meet, saying 124 days is too long.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the Arizona Department of Gaming Deputy and Racing Division Director Rudy Casillas says updated veterinary medical records are now required on every horse.

Francia concludes the interview emotional saying, “I’ve never gotten used to it. I’ve never gotten used to losing a horse. For me [it's emotional]. For everybody in this sport. Racing is family.”