Heading into Friday's third race, the seven-year-old gelding Saginaw was going for his 16th win in just 19 starts. Instead, he took one bad step and suffered what would ultimately prove to be a fatal injury.
SARATOGA RACE COURSE, NY -- Friday's third race at Saratoga Race Course brought plenty of glory for winner Bernie the Maestro and his connections. It proved equally as tragic for the stakes winner, Saginaw.
Stopped by rider Junior Alvarado heading into the far turn, the seven-year-old gelding was taken by ambulance to trainer David Jacobsen's barn after the race. X-rays revealed duel fractures in his front left ankle.
Soon after, veterinarians and his trainer made the decision to euthanize the horse, marking the fifth equine fatality of this year's Saratoga meet.
"As somebody who loves horses and who loves thoroughbred racing, you're always heartbroken when these things happen," said Richard Migliore, a retired jockey and racing analyst for the NYRA.
"Unfortunately the physiology of the thoroughbred is such that some injuries can't be repaired or can't be repaired satisfactorily," said NYRA Communications Director Eric Wing.
In last Sunday's ninth race, Kris Royal and Sarava's Dancer both suffered fatal injuries at different points in the race.
In September, following the death of 21 horses at last year's Aqueduct winter meeting, a board appointed by Governor Cuomo recommended several new safety protocols. According to Wing, track operators have been following those guidelines.
Wing said NYRA's breakdown rate has fallen from 4.0 per 1,000 starts in 2012 to just 1.6 per 1,000 starts in 2013.
"Just based on the empirical data, which is all we really have to go on, the trend line is going in the right direction without question," Wing said.
It is NYRA's procedure that all horses are examined by a vet for soundness before entering the gate each race. When a horse is fatally injured, full necropsies and investigations are performed.
Even with those extra steps, experts say accidents can't entirely be avoided.
"Unfortunately it's part of the game," Migliore said. "You try to do everything you possibly can to keep it as safe as possible but occasionally it's going to happen even under the best of circumstances."
At Wednesday's NYRA Board of Directors meeting, Anthony Bonomo, who heads the board's safety committee, said the organization's breakdown rate is still well below the national average.
According to the New York State Gaming Commission's website, four horses have died in training at Saratoga since the start of the meet on July 19.