PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The general manager of Turf Paradise announced that starting next week, every horse will be checked by a veterinarian before races.
According to a recent study by the Arizona Department of Gaming, 50 horses were euthanized during the 2017-18 season at Arizona racing tracks, mostly after they suffered leg or ankle injuries during a race.
Forty-five of those deaths were at Turf Paradise, and 27 of those were racing-related. The other 18 were due to training, illness or disease.
That number is twice the national equine death rate at tracks.
"We would meet every month and we were coming up with this idea, and that idea to try to figure out what caused this spike in fatalities because the seasons before, we were keeping the pace with the national average," said Vincent Francia, the general manager of Turf Paradise.
The new protocol for veterinary checkups will start on March 18.
Previously, about 15 horses received pre-race exams per day based on selections by the stewards.
"Sometimes you can miss a thing. If a horse is maybe just a little sore, a little off, you're not going to be able to catch everything, but with a veterinarian coming around, checking it before it runs, it just makes sure your horse is best prepared that day to go ahead and race," said horse trainer Jonathan Nance.
Francia said by this time last year, they had already lost 19 horses. So far this season, 15 have had to be euthanized.
"We'd love to get to zero, but realistically there are dangers in the sport. We don't know if we can get there but at least get the fatality rate down," Francia said.
The Santa Anita racetrack in California has canceled racing indefinitely to re-examine its dirt surface. Since December, 21 horses have died at that track.
"When something like that happens, you start second guessing everything you do and you start holding your breath about sending your horse out to a racetrack when you're just worried that your horse is making a living and if the horse you love is even going to come back tomorrow," said Nance.
Francia and Nance said the upkeep of the track comes down to a science, but is critical for a horse and jockey's safety.
"Horses can race on a sealed track, they can race in the mud, it doesn't bother them," Francia explained. "Where it gets tricky, whether it's here or Santa Anita, it's when a track is drying out."
"Horse trainers put a lot of effort and a lot of care into making sure when they do go out there, nothing is going to happen to that horse," Nance said. "The track surface is a huge, huge deal."
Francia said a group of researchers from NAU, ASU and a private business have been going over data from the 2017-18 season to determine if there is something specific causing issues on the track. He hopes to get the results of their study by the end of March.
"Having fresh eyes, they may see something in the data, which we in racing-- because we're so close to it -- don't see. If they do see a pattern, we can implement another protocol because we want to do everything we can to keep these animals safe," Francia said.