Following a rash of horse deaths at racetracks across the country last year—13 died at Saratoga Race Course alone last season, with one horse breaking down in the last race on the last day of the meet—the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has announced the creation of a new Safety and Integrity Team, which will address, in real time, the issue at hand.
On February 20, NYRA announced that longtime employees Juan Dominguez and Tim Kelly would join the Safety and Integrity Team, which also consists of Safety Steward Hugh Gallagher and Jean Claude Jaramillo, NYRA’s Equine Investigator Specialist. Some of the responsibilities of this four-person unit will include conducting safety checks during training hours, following up on leads regarding illegal drug usage that may affect racing performances and investigating “selected” horse fatalities, according to the NYRA.
“The safety and welfare of horses and jockeys competing at NYRA tracks is our highest priority,” says Patrick McKenna, NYRA’s director of communications and public affairs. “That’s why NYRA is committed to providing the safest possible environment for racing and training by adopting and implementing the best proven safety practices in consultation with independent experts, veterinarians, horsemen and regulators.”
Dominguez, who has worked for NYRA since 2000, has held other roles during his five decades in the racing community, including trainer, jockey agent, investigator and alternate steward. With over 35 years of experience in the horse racing world, Kelly has served as NYRA’s Clerk of Sales since 2005 and has monitored jockeys’ room activity across all three NYRA tracks. Gallagher joined NYRA in 2014 to fulfill his then newly created role, and Jaramillo started in 2011, also serving as the vice chair of the Organization of Racing Investigators.
In 2019, there were 35 reported racehorse deaths in New York State alone, with 38 deaths occurring during training and 26 deaths classified under “other” reasons, according to the New York State Gaming Commission, whose mission is to monitor the integrity, credibility and quality of horse racing activity. Of these 99 deaths, 65 have reportedly occurred at the three NYRA tracks: Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course.
New York is only the tip of the iceberg. National controversy was sparked last year when a string of horse deaths occurred at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA, causing public concern and some calls for cancelling the entire annual racing meet (last March, racing was suspended there for a period of time).