Horse deaths rose at Monmouth Park during 2018 race meet – Asbury Park Press

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Governor Phil Murphy was live at Monmouth Park Racetrack placing the first legal sports bet in New Jersey. Thomas P. Costello, Asbury Park Press

The tragic events at Santa Anita have focused the national spotlight both on the historic Southern California racetrack, where 19 horses have died from on-track incidents over the past two months, and on the sport in general.

At the Jersey Shore, Monmouth Park experienced a rise in equine fatalities in 2018, with a total of 15 horses dying from racing-related injuries, either racing or training, according to a website that tracks equine fatalities throughout the industry. The the website horseracingwrongs.com, through an open records request from the New Jersey Racing Commission, reports that six horses died as a result of races at the Oceanport thoroughbred track in 2018.

There had been just two race-related deaths at Monmouth Park over the previous two years, with six other deaths related to training breakdowns during that time. There were seven racing-related fatalities at Monmouth Park in 2015, with 18 in all.

The Equine Injury Database, initiated by The Jockey Club in 2009 to track injury trends, reported that race-related fatalities – those occurring within 72 hours of a race – rose slightly in 2017, with 1.61 deaths-per-1,000 starts, up from 1.54 in 2016. Statistics for 2018 are expected to be released in March.

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According to information compiled by the Asbury Park Press, that equates to a rate of 1.53 deaths-per-1,000 starts at Monmouth Park last year, slightly below the national average, with 3,907 starts during a 52-day meet that stretched from May 5 to Sept. 9.

“We have a safe track,’’  said Dennis Drazin, the chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, which has operated Monmouth Park for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association since 2012, when the NJTHA began leasing the track from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

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“One of the primary concerns we had when we took over, not that sports authority was doing a bad job, but we wanted to make sure we had a safe track and that the horsemen could come and train and race on, so we’ve focused on that.’’

The Monmouth Park track was also open for daily training from late-April through the end of October last year, with nine horses dying as a result of injuries sustained in workouts, according to the website. The final fatality came on Oct. 30 when an unraced 2-year-old Super Saver colt named Impulse Buy broke down, 13 months after he was purchased at auction for $430,000.

Monmouth Park opens its 61-day meet on May 4, with average daily purses of around $500,000, including a $7.1 million stakes program.

“(General manger) Bill Anderson does a wonderful job (with the track),” said Drazin. “He grew up as a horseman and was an active trainer. He knows the right things to do and he’s done a wonderful job.

“We track not only fatalities but breakdowns and try to look at all incidents. And if there’s a complaint about an area of the track with concerns, we’re out right away trying to address it.’’

Other safety measures in New Jersey include a pre-race inspection by a veterinarian, who checks each horse, both manually and visually, as well as pre-and post-race testing of horses for drugs, including stimulants, pain-killers and anti-inflammatories.

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On Wednesday, Santa Anita’s main track was closed for training for a second straight day, as experts examined the racing surface in search of answers for a string of fatalities. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called off a planned protest at the track, feeling the track representatives “pledged to take definitive steps.’’

The track is scheduled to open for training and racing on Thursday.

Earlier this month, a study issued by the Arizona Department of Gaming indicated that 50 horses died, mostly at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, during the 2017-18 season. That was more than twice the number of “catastrophic injuries” sustained two years earlier in Arizona, and double the national equine death rate at tracks.

Stephen Edelson: [email protected]

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