Three horses died from injuries sustained in falls over Father’s Day weekend at Wyoming Downs racetrack outside Evanston on Saturday.
During a Wyoming Gaming Commission meeting Tuesday morning, Executive Director Charles Moore said the horses were humanely euthanized.
The three horses fell during three of the first five races Saturday, held under “fast” track conditions. Moore said all the horses were 2-year-old quarter horses from Utah running in the Utah Bred Futurity Trials.
Moore said he was driven to tears when he heard the news.
“Fatalities from anybody on a racetrack, you shed a tear,” Moore said. “Even the hardest people, when you see a horse die on the racetrack or anywhere, you tear up.”
Unprecedented In Wyoming
Multiple people commented on the Wyoming Downs Facebook on Monday that they had never seen anything like it before, and Wyoming Downs owner Eric Nelson shared the same sentiment with Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday afternoon.
“In 25 years of horse racing, I’ve never had three horses go down in the same day, even two is seldom,” he said.
Salt Lake City resident Marina Kay commented that she saw the horses fall and said the track should have suspended races after the third time.
“What happened Saturday was incredibly disturbing to watch, and the fact that they just cleaned up the bodies and carnage after each death without the broadcasters or anyone from track management even acknowledging the tragedies happening or stopping the races after the THIRD accident is so inhumane and evil,” she posted.
Utah resident Devin Holland posted that two of the horses went down at the same spot, but Nelson said all the horses fell at different locations.
Nelson said all three of the horses that fell suffered shoulder injuries, which he said is much more likely a result of poor training rather than track conditions.
The nature of the injuries, that the three accidents happened in different spots and the fact that the jockeys felt comfortable to continue racing, led Nelson to continue holding running races after the third horse was injured, he said.
He said after a long and snowy winter in Utah, many of the young horses may not have received adequate training outdoors before racing on a track that offered somewhat hard conditions Saturday.
“It’s just a dangerous sport, there’s no question about it,” he said.
After the final fall Saturday, there were no further issues, and every race was completed Sunday without a problem, he said.
Moore said the equine deaths are under investigation, and interviews and toxicology reports will be filed.
He said providing any additional information about what happened “would be premature at best and a misrepresentation of the incidents.”
Moore said more information will be provided on the investigation at the commission’s next meeting July 19.
As part of the Wyoming Gaming Commission’s investigative process, all affected parties — jockeys, trainers, track officials and veterinarians — will be interviewed. Nelson said the training and conditioning the horses received and track conditions also will be considered.
“While the fatalities are unfortunate, I want to impress on you and anyone else that’s listening in at the moment, equine safety is at the forefront of everything we do here at the Commission,” Moore said.
He said this priority is shared by the horsemen and track operators at Wyoming Downs.
Other Horse Deaths
Horse racing was suspended at legendary horse racing track Churchill Downs earlier this month and moved to a different Kentucky racetrack to allow federal and state regulators to investigate the deaths of 12 horses there over a span of five weeks.
Initial investigations found no issues with the Churchill Downs track.
Wyoming Gaming Commissioner Reuben Ritthaler questioned at Tuesday’s meeting whether the investigative report from Churchill Downs will be made public or kept private, the latter a scenario he describes as a “lack of transparency” from the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority.
Commissioner Daniel Schiffer said even if a report is made public, it likely won’t address the public’s concern.
Moore said the public is often quick to point fingers at the racetrack surface.
“There are so many pieces that go together in these puzzles,” he said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.