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Horse deaths on race tracks not uncommon

March 25, 2012 |  7:23 am

HorsesThe deaths of three horses during the production of the television drama "Luck" attracted headlines about the care of animals on TV sets.

But the death of horses on race tracks is not uncommon. Horses often break bones during races and later receive a lethal injection. At tracks across California, 186 horses died after racing and training accidents during the last fiscal year, according to statistics from the state horse racing board. An additional 79 horses died at tracks from other causes, including intestinal and respiratory diseases.

At one New York track -- Aqueduct -- 20 horses have died since Nov. 30. The governor ordered an investigation this month.

Barry Abrams, a racehorse trainer in Southern California for three decades, said he is deeply troubled by every death but that it is unrealistic to think that fatalities can be eliminated. Certain types of fractures are extremely difficult to treat because horses cannot lie down for long periods without risking respiratory illness and other health problems. Euthanizing them is considered the most humane option.

"The race horses are born to race," Abrams said. "That's why people breed them. Nobody wants them to die."

Susan Stover, a professor of veterinary medicine at UC Davis who examines the broken bones of deceased California race horses, said that fatal injuries usually start as mild ones that went undetected.

"We need to be able to pick up those minor injuries," Stover said.

Her research team studies the forces placed on bones, tendons and joints when horses run -- information that she hopes will help develop track surfaces with the optimal balance of cushioning and support.


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Photo: The horse-racing drama "Luck" was filmed at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia before being canceled. Credit: Gusmano Cesaretti / HBO