Seventh horse dies at Saratoga Race Course in less than a month (2024)

The spotlight on horse-racing fatalities, which is chipping away at the sport’s long-term viability, has now shifted to New York’s signature summer meeting at Saratoga Race Course, where two more horses died over the weekend, bringing the toll to seven in less than a month.

Undefeated 3-year-old filly Maple Leaf Mel fell yards from the finish line on Saturday in the Grade 1 Test Stakes in a gruesome scene played out before a full house and nationally televised audience on Fox. Then on Sunday, Ever Summer, running in an allowance race, fell and sustained life-threatening injuries and was euthanized on the track.

Maple Leaf Mel struggled to get up and then moved about with a broken right front leg that dangled. The filly was also euthanized on the track. Jockey Joel Rosario was banged up and needed stitches to his lip. He was off his mounts the rest of Saturday and Sunday. Irad Ortiz Jr., who was riding Ever Summer, returned to racing Sunday.


There have been seven racing or training deaths at Saratoga since the meet opened July 13. Using a similar time frame, since 2019 there has only been one fatality each in 2019, 2021 and 2022. There were none to that date in 2020.


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For the full mid-July to Labor Day meeting, according to data provided by the New York Gaming Commission and curated by The Times, there were eight deaths in 2022, nine in 2021, 10 in 2020 and five in 2019. The Times excludes deaths due to colic, laminitis, neurological or other issues unless directly tied to racing or training.

The sport has been under fire this year after 12 horses died at Churchill Downs, sandwiched around the Kentucky Derby, and racing at the historic track was suspended and moved to Ellis Park, also in Kentucky. Belmont Park, fresh off having to cancel racing because of poor air quality, had horses die in the last race on Belmont Stakes day and the first race the next day.

Santa Anita was the catalyst for nationwide concern over horse racing deaths when 30 horses died in 2019 during its six-month meeting. In its first month of racing and training, 11 horses died. After the parent company, the Stronach Group, interceded, changed track management and instituted major safety reforms, the fatalities were greatly reduced. California deaths have decreased by 55% since 2019.

“Every horse entered to compete at Saratoga Race Course is required to undergo an extensive pre-race veterinary examination before the horse is permitted to race,” the New York Racing Assn. said in a statement Saturday. “In addition to physical inspection and observation, regulatory veterinarians perform a detailed review of each horse’s medical records, past performances and workouts. Maple Leaf Mel passed the required pre-race veterinary inspection in accordance with these well-established protocols.

“In the process of investigating this injury, a necropsy will be performed at Cornell University with the results to be analyzed by Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) officials, the New York State Equine Medical Director and NYRA leadership.”


Saratoga has an average to good safety record, according to the Equine Injury Database, an incomplete database on horse fatalities run by the Jockey Club. It presents only part of the picture as it does not record training deaths or those that fall in the “other” category. In addition, it does not require every track to make their results public. Churchill Downs and tracks owned by the parent company are conspicuous in their refusal to make its statistics public.

California and New York are the leaders in transparency when it comes to fatalities and injuries. Kentucky is at the other end of the spectrum.


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In 2022, Saratoga averaged 0.62 fatalities for every 1,000 racing starts. Del Mar was slightly lower (0.56) and Santa Anita was almost the same (0.63) as Saratoga. In 2021, Del Mar easily had the lowest number (0.28), followed by Saratoga (0.93) and Santa Anita (1.45).

In the pandemic year of 2020, Del Mar (0.29) was the lowest, Santa Anita (1.17) was next and Saratoga (1.69) had the highest number of the three tracks. The year 2019 gives a horrific snapshot of what a bad year looks like as Santa Anita averaged 3.01 fatalities per 1,000 starts, while Del Mar (0.62) and Saratoga (1.28) were more in line of a normal year.

For comparison this year, Del Mar, which starts a week later than Saratoga, has had three fatalities, two in training and one racing.

Maple Leaf Mel was owned by former NFL coach Bill Parcells and named after her trainer, Melanie Giddings. The filly won her first five starts and had a bright future. Parcells’ August Dawn Farm had bought her as a 2-year-old for $150,000.


“She was my little traveling buddy,” Giddings told the NYRA press office Sunday. “It’s a sad day. It’s what she loved to do. She never looked worse than when she came in from two months at the farm. She just loved running and she loved being here at the track. That’s what she loved the most.”

The filly looked like the easy winner in the $500,000 race when she went down. Luckily, the jockeys were able to maneuver their way around the fallen Rosario.

“He was wrapping up to the wire, and I don’t know if she just took a bad step,” Giddings said.

The crowd grew silent at the sight and the Fox broadcast crew was somber. Host Laffit Pincay III skirted the obvious when he said they would update the condition of the horse when they knew. Yet, it was clear to everyone that there was only one possible outcome.

More to Read

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    Nov. 1, 2023

Seventh horse dies at Saratoga Race Course in less than a month (2024)


Why are so many horses dying at Saratoga Race Track? ›

The HISA analysis of the dead horses' exercise histories, the organization said, revealed that "horses having participated in more frequent high-intensity exercise and furlongs were 2.5 times more likely than the control group to be injured." The group says it's developed data analytics to "flag horses at potential ...

What happened in the 7th race at Saratoga today? ›

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A mechanical problem with the tractor that moves the starting gate on and off the track at the Saratoga Race Course caused the seventh race on the 10-race to be declared “No contest.” That decision by the stewards caused several glitches in the multi-race bets that include the seventh.

What do they do with dead racehorses? ›

There are several commonly used methods of equine carcass disposal, including burial, landfills, composting, incineration, rendering and biodigesters. BURIAL: Regulations on horse burial vary from state to state and within states, from locality to locality.

What horse is buried at Saratoga Race Track? ›

Champion filly Go For Wand, who suffered a fatal injury during the stretch run of the 1990 Breeders Cup Distaff, is buried in the Saratoga Race Course infield.

What is the cause of death of race horses? ›

The details can be viewed at our Race Horse Death Watch website. Horses killed on racecourses suffer from a broken leg, back, neck or pelvis; fatal spinal injuries; heart attack; or burst blood vessels. The other victims perish from training injuries or are killed after being assessed by their owners as no-hopers.

Why do they euthanize horses on the track? ›

Any elaborate or unusual process to try to repair a badly broken bone can cost thousands of dollars. Few horse owners are willing to spend that kind of money on a painful treatment process that might not work and probably won't get the horse back to the racetrack. Euthanasia is the unfortunate choice most of the time.

Why was race 7 at Saratoga refunded? ›

- Sunday's seventh race at Saratoga was declared a no-contest because several jockeys pulled their horses up on the backside at the direction of an outrider due to a malfunction with the starting gate tractor.

What horse fell at Saratoga? ›

Ever Summer went down in the final turn. Also during the race, 4-year-old Frivole was pulled up on the second turn and vanned off. Owned and bred by Brereton Jones and trained by Christophe Clement, Ever Summer was runner-up by a neck in her previous start in the Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes.

What is the famous race at Saratoga Race Track? ›

The Travers Stakes is an American Grade I Thoroughbred horse race held at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York. It is nicknamed the "Midsummer Derby" and is the third-ranked race for American three-year-olds according to international classifications, behind only the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.

How many horses died at Saratoga last year? ›

(NEWS10) — The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) released a report looking into the unusually high number of horse deaths during the 2023 season at the Saratoga Race Course (2023 meet). 14 horses died during training and racing last season.

Why are horses destroyed at races? ›

Though the practise seems cruel, but 'destroying' a racehorse is usually more humane than forcing the horse to endure the recovery. Around 150 horses are 'destroyed', as the racing community calls it, mostly by lethal injection, at racecourses each year, usually after sustaining badly broken legs.

How many horses are stabled at Saratoga? ›

Facility Details
Stabling Capacity1,830 Stalls
Dormitory Capacity (489 Rooms)1,048 Personnel
40 more rows

Why is horse racing declining? ›

In the past, horse racing was a popular form of gambling, with bettors flocking to the track to place their bets. However, the rise of online gambling and the proliferation of alternative forms of betting have led to a decline in interest in horse racing.

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