Rillito Racing trying to find answers to prevent horse deaths at Rillito Park

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – Rillito Park had one of its best years financially, but one of its worst when it came to horse deaths.

Seven horses have died, six on the track and one in the paddock, leaving one more weekend of racing.

After years of having one of the best safety records for any racetrack in the country, this year turned into one of tragedy.

“We went from a fabulous record to what happened this year is pretty tragic,” said Jaye Wells, former president of the Rillito Foundation, a nonprofit organization that operates and manages the track. “This year is just horrible from where we were.”

How and why it happened will be determined after the season is over and all the records can be collected, studied and digested, but one thing is already evident.

“The rush to get it up and running, the rush to put everything together, finding all those complications, of course, resulted in some horses being killed,” he said. “That just breaks our hearts.”

The season got off to a late start due to delays in the announcement of race start dates which were not determined until two weeks before opening day.

Rillito Racing had little time left to prepare, and as a result, many horse owners went elsewhere due to uncertainty.

After much public consultation, Pima County issued this note saying the track obeyed all state rules and is under contract until 2023.

So even though purses doubled this year, the track didn’t get the quality of horses it hoped for and the ones that did commit may not have been ready for the season.

“In this particular case, there was no time to track down and find out where all these horses had run,” Wells said. “I think they were healthy, strong enough to run, and I think some of them slipped through the cracks.”

71 horses were deemed unfit to race and were eliminated from racing, which the foundation says “is a high number.”

After the first weekend in which four horses died, the track set up an area where the horses walked in a circle and were observed by the track’s veterinarian, trainer and jockey. If the horse had an injury, he would be discovered there.

“With a good eye, a well-informed eye, a veterinarian or a rider can tell the way a horse gaits, the way it walks,” he said.

But some, like MAPsay that even that is not enough.

“If the horses are being medicated, even if the drug is legal and administered legally, that means that injury, that feeling of pain, they’re medicated, they don’t feel that, they go out and run and can potentially break a bone,” Kathy said. William, Vice President of PETA.

90% of horses necropsied have pre-existing injuries where a break has occurred.

The organization has a series of suggestions for the industry that can prevent deaths.

He believes that no horse should race for two weeks after receiving medication for an injury.

Each horse must have a passport that goes with the horse and contains all of its vital information.

Synthetic tracks can cut injuries and death in half.

Random drug tests, whipping bans, and CT scans are other ways to protect horses.

“If horses continue to die on the track, racing will become synonymous,” Guillermo said. “So the only chance racing has is to take better care of the horses to make sure the horses don’t die on the track.”

Rillito Racing hopes the on-track Equine Wellness Program will also help reduce injuries and fatalities.

The program, in conjunction with the University of Arizona, is designed for students along with veterinarians to provide horses with exercise, nutrition and care, which will make them healthier and more capable of running.

The Equine Wellness Program is under consideration as a model for other tracks in Arizona.

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