For the Record: NYRA’s “Safety Rate” Is a Sham

The horseracing industry distracts, dissembles, and deceives because it has to – the facts and the truth are squarely on our side. One of their go-tos, especially here in New York, is their supposed safety rate. Last week, I did an interview with NPR affiliate WAMC; it was mostly focused on the recently-concluded Saratoga meet. Of course, and as always, the industry was given space to respond. Here is NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna’s statement to the station:

“NYRA’s organizational commitment to equine safety coupled with significant capital investments in our racing services and facilities, has ensured that serious equine injuries remain exceedingly rare at Saratoga Race Course.

“[T]he summer meet has included 393 races featuring more than 3,000 horses. Three of those 3,000 horses have suffered catastrophic injuries during live racing. On the training side, there have been roughly 8,000 timed workouts since the summer meet opened on July 14th. Of those 8,000 timed workouts, four horses have unfortunately suffered catastrophic injuries during morning training.

“While there is always more work to prevent all serious equine injuries, more than 99.9% of all races and high-speed workouts this summer have been conducted safely and without incident. NYRA prioritizes safety and integrity above all other considerations and continuously evaluates all aspects of the operation to provide the safest possible environment for training and racing. And as a nonprofit whose core responsibility is to safely conduct thoroughbred racing, NYRA has invested tens of millions of dollars in recent years on renovations and improvements to our racing and training facilities with an eye on enhancing safety.

“[T]he opponents of horseracing who seek to end the sport in New York are certainly entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to their own set of facts. The fact is that thoroughbred racing in New York State and here at Saratoga Race Course is safer today than at any point in recent history.”

Let me begin by saying that Mr. McKenna is, if nothing else, a well-schooled propagandist, using the word “safety,” or variations thereof, no less than seven times. Impressive. As to his assertions, first, the vast majority of the horses who trained or raced at Saratoga this summer did so multiple times. So, each time a particular horse raced or had a timed workout it got counted. In other words, the dead-horses-per-pool-of-horses is higher than Mr. McKenna’s .1%. What it is exactly I can’t say because I don’t have access to all of McKenna’s data (which is a whole other issue). Even so, the facts – which are not mine by the way; they come directly from the state Gaming Commission – tell a far different story than the one peddled by NYRA.

So is it true that “racing in NYS and at Saratoga…is safer today than at any point in recent history”? The kill numbers (again, from the state) for the three NYRA tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga) since 2013, when Governor Cuomo’s task force from the year prior led to a bevy of new “safety protocols”:

2013: 70 dead horses
2014: 79 dead horses
2015: 59 dead horses
2016: 66 dead horses
2017: 78 dead horses
2018: 60 dead horses
2019: 65 dead horses
2020: 83 dead horses
2021: 76 dead horses
2022: 49 dead horses (incomplete: four months to go)

You’ll note that in the two most recent full years (’20, ’21) the death tolls were significantly higher than the average of 71 over the entire nine-year period. Worse still: In 2020, NYRA had its highest toll since 2012, and only two shy of the 2011 mark. This is NYRA “set[ting] the industry standard when it comes to safety and integrity.”

How about Saratoga itself? Well, since 2009, the first year of state disclosure, 207 horses have died at this hallowed track – an average of just under 15/summer. But here’s the thing, not including this year (as training continues into October), Saratoga’s kill count in each of the past six years has been higher than its historical average. That’s higher – for six straight years. “Safer today”? Please. Viewed another way, Saratoga Race Course, the self-styled “oldest sporting venue in the nation,” averages about two kills per week. That’s two dead “athletes” pretty much guaranteed every week during the “season.” Of what other sport on the planet can this be said?

And while we don’t have an exact kill rate, here’s yet another way of looking at it. Our research indicates that each year over 2,000 horses, about six every day, are killed at American racetracks. We know (Jockey Club) that the annual “foal crop” – the number of new Thoroughbreds coming into the system – has been running around 19,000. Now granted, these are just Thoroughbreds, and our killed lists reflect QuarterHorse and Standardbred deaths, too. But as the great majority of deaths are suffered by Thoroughbreds, we can confidently posit that each year an amount equal to 8%-10% of the foal crop is dying at U.S. tracks. And this doesn’t even begin to account for the multiple thousands more who are being bled-out and butchered upon “retirement.”

Now, Mr. McKenna can say that that kill rate is national, and he’s just defending NY. Well, here’s a truism he knows full well: Saratoga horses are industry horses, constantly moving, as all racehorses do, from track to track and state to state. In other words, it’s not Saratoga, it’s not NYRA, it’s not even NYS – it’s the single entity, U.S. Racing, we should be assessing. But since this started with Saratoga, here is where we land: Not including (obviously) the 12 who already died, Horseracing Wrongs maintains that most of the horses who raced at Saratoga this summer will, in the future, either die at a track – that’s any U.S. track, including, possibly, Saratoga next year or beyond – or at the abattoir. “99.9% safe”? An obscenity.

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  1. It’s heartbreaking to me the risks that humans are willing to take on a beautiful animals life for a buck. To medicate them to get them to race and then when the horse gets inured you sell him off for meat, infuriates and saddens me to my core. We need more monitoring and reporting like you’re doing so more restrictions and violations are put into place.

    • In a country where people cavalierly dump their pets at the first opportunity when they become inconvenient, it should come as no surprise that horses are essentially treated the same way when they are “inconvenient” and can no longer make a buck for someone. I was sickened to recently read a story in my local paper–a story I knew, two years ago and with 100% certainty, would be coming–about all the “pandemic pets” that have been turned over to shelters now that the pandemic is receding. As if they were stuffed toys, good for hugging during the dark days of lockdown, but now an inconvenience to these same people. It’s often asked here, what is wrong with people, when we read these stories. I don’t know, and after all my years on this earth, I don’t think I ever will.

  2. The fact that these people continue to brag when there are ANY equine fatalities occurring pretty much days it all.

  3. I’ve been listening to this bullshit for years!!
    Here are some additional facts Mr. McKenna.
    The race meet at Saratoga is only 40 days per year.
    So, on average, 15 racehorses die there in just 40 days.
    That’s about, on average, 3 racehorses per day dying at Saratoga that we know of.
    Of course the collateral damage is never assessed like the collective damage of racehorses being shipped in and out like Patrick mentions.
    Then another lie is that they are spending millions to upgrade the facilities.
    It’s the residents of New York that are paying for your vile killing business and, unfortunately, it’s our politicians that are endorsing this outrageous waste of precious pubic funds that should be going to educate our children.
    So it’s actually the children of New York who is paying for your killing business and our entire future of our country depends on the future generation most of which want nothing to do with your cruelty, exploitation and dying of sentient beings.
    Then we come to your claims of non-profit status.
    Technically your business doesn’t qualify for non-profit status, but true to industry form, you burn the candle from both ends and you’ve been doing this for years.
    In other words, you double dip while you kill racehorses, but dying is only part of it because the racehorses suffering on you tracks and in you stalls is horrific inhumane treatment of racehorses and it’s widespread.
    Racehorses like JEMOGRAPGY A 6 y.o gelding that has more than earned his retirement making over $406,000, but continues to be abused at Belmont because your parasites only care about your wagering profits which, in and of itself, qualifies you as a PROFIT business.
    CHRIS AND DAVE This 9 y.o gelding has ran his ass-off for multiple claiming parasites and in his better days made over $849,000 and is still being abused at Saratoga.
    There are so many more that your business continues to abuse while you sadistic low life amoeba’s watch them suffer as they fulfill your “snuff shows.”
    I’ve been around this business much longer than you and I can say with 100% certainty that the demise of horse racing will come and it’s well on its way.

    • Very well said yet again. When racing finally disappears, the only thing I will care about is what will happen to all the horses who won’t be able to go to good homes. The people involved with racing have agency, and will find other jobs elsewhere. But the horses have no such ability; they live at the will of people. Most likely they will go to slaughter, but, sad as that will be, at least we will know that they will be the last “crop” to do so, and we can close the books on horse racing for good.

  4. Killing horses in racing is their “standard” and anyone who wants to believe the industry’s lies is extremely foolish.
    Patrick McKenna is a professional liar. Mr. McKenna can’t be trusted to tell the truth about the fact that all horses bred for this despicable industry are victims of willful and deliberate cruelty and torture. No horse is safe in this industry. They’re considered inventory; inventory to be used as gambling chips.

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