Palmer: Want To Make Racing Safer? Get Your COVID-19 Vaccine

POSTED ON  |  03-04-2021

Scott Palmer
As COVID-19 vaccine rollouts continue to ramp up across many racing states this week, New York State Gaming Commission equine medical director Dr. Scott Palmer said the best thing racing industry participants can do to make horses safer is to sign up for a shot.


Because in analyzing data on Thoroughbred fatalities from 2020, Palmer said he has determined the COVID-19 pandemic could be considered a novel risk factor for fatal injuries last year. Overall, there were 24 percent fewer fatalities per 1,000 starts in the region in 2020 as compared to 2019, but Palmer noticed some shifts in the types of fatalities that did occur. The number and percentage of overall fatalities that occurred during racing (versus training or other activities) went down, which Palmer said was to be expected since the pandemic pause resulted in resulted in fewer race cards in 2020 versus 2019.

He did see a change in the proportion of fatalities occurring in training, however – especially in juvenile runners.

“We had a very unusually high number of fatalities in 2-year-old racehorses, particularly at Saratoga Racetrack this summer,” said Palmer, who presented the data during a teleconference hosted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. “There are always many factors that enter into fatalities and I'm not going to try to tell you COVID was the only reason for that, but you put COVID on top of a really crummy winter where it was tough to train anyway, and it wasn't like we could move the Saratoga meet back to September.”

Once racing was cancelled, Palmer said it didn't make sense for some owners that keep their horses on the farm to send them to the track as usual and pay a day rate when they had no idea how much longer racing would be shut down. Some 2-year-olds didn't post their first official timed works until June, much closer to their debuts than usual. Out of the eighteen 2-year-old fatalities in 2020, eight occurred in horses that had never made it to the races.

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