Turf Paradise vows changes following investigation

Posted: Updated:
By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- About two dozen horses die at racetracks across America each week, according to an investigation by the New York Times. That analysis found the rate of horse injuries at a Valley racetrack was well above average.

"We take safety seriously on all levels, so to read an expose on the front page of the New York Times, yes, that was disappointing," said Vincent Francia, the general manager at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

The Times investigation found for every 1,000 horses that race at Turf Paradise, 11 suffer breakdowns or show other signs of injury.

"When I read that figure, 11 per thousand, I was surprised," Francia said. "But even if it was half of that or three-quarters of that, I still would not be satisfied until I could get it as close to zero as I possibly can."

Francia said so far this season 21 horses have suffered catastrophic injuries on the track or while training, which have led to death or euthanization. That number is down from last year.

Francia said the track has made several safety improvements in recent years, including building a $400,000 equine pool where the horses can exercise without exerting the same amount of pressure on their legs that a ground workout would require.

He said the track has also changed the type of sand they use on the race track to one that provides more cushion for the horses.

The Times' story prompted Francia to contact the director of the State Racing Department to discuss more stringent regulation of illegal doping of the horses.

Experts believe excessive use of pharmaceuticals and illegal substances in the horses is tied to high injury rates.

"I was talking with the director, and I want absolutely zero tolerance," Francia said.

Right now each winning horse at Turf Paradise is drug tested and other horses are tested on a random basis.

Those who rescue horses who've suffered career-ending injuries are all for the changes.

Diana Gogan runs After the Home Stretch, a horse rescue for thoroughbreds in North Phoenix, and said she was not surprised by the Times' analysis.

"Some horses are pushed beyond their limits and given injections, or raced with injuries, and all sorts of things you don't see in a two-minute race," Gogan said.