SARATOGA, NY (NEWS10) — Maple Leaf Mel, the undefeated filly, was one of two horses euthanized at the Saratoga Race Course this past weekend. There have now been 10 horse deaths at the Spa this season, and 15 each of the last two years.

NEWS10 spoke with NYRA and the state’s top equine doctor to shed some light on why incidents like this happen, and how they try and prevent them. “First and foremost, the health and well being of the horses and jockeys competing at Saratoga Race Course and at all NYRA tracks is absolutely paramount,” said NYRA Vice President of Communications Patrick McKenna. “You see that reflected in the time, resources, and attention to the facilities, whether it’s the track surfaces, the turf courses, or investing in the science and technology that can prevent these kinds of things before they happen.”

Dr. Scott Palmer, The New York State Equine Medical Director, tells NEWS10 there is a large group of regulatory veterinarians that work at NYRA and examine each horse before the race. They are examined in their stalls, and after walking in the paddock, right up until post time. “As they come on to the race track, they warm up,” said Dr. Palmer. “There are veterinarians that watch them warm up and make sure they’re warming up properly before they go to the starting gate. There’s another veterinarian at the starting gate. As they are loaded into the starting gate, that veterinarian has had another opportunity to look at all the horses, how they’re moving, if the jockeys are comfortable with their horses. Then they’re loaded into the gates. But there really are a number of opportunities for the veterinarian to look at the horse before the race.”

Another question that comes up is, why does something like a leg injury lead to a euthanization? Dr. Palmer tells NEWS10 most horses that are injured are not euthanized. When they are, it’s because the injuries are just too catastrophic for the horse to recover. “For example, rather than just getting a crack in the bone, frequently in those horses the bone is shattered,” said Dr. Palmer. “You can’t put it back together again. Then there are other situations where the bone might not be so badly damaged but the soft tissues are damaged.”

Dr. Palmer also added that horses need to stand on all four legs immediately after surgery, so the surgically repaired leg would need to be able to support the horse’s weight.

This leads us to, what advancements can be made to help further protect these horses? Dr. Palmer says since 2021, they’ve been researching a device that would basically be a “Fitbit” for horses. “For 20 years now, research has shown that about 85% of the horses that have catastrophic injuries have some minor injuries along the way that go undiagnosed, perhaps,” said Dr. Palmer. “So if we can identify them using wearable biometric sensors, we get a really good head start. It’s kind of like a check engine light. If that horse has a high number on the sensor, it doesn’t mean that horse is going to die. What it means is you need to have a veterinarian look at that horse before he runs again.”

All of this considered, there are people and groups who will point out that these injuries and deaths could be avoided by not running the races at all. But NYRA feels confident in their ability to provide the safest environment possible for their sport. “There will always be critics of horse racing,” said McKenna. “Fortunately fans up here who are as educated and as knowledgeable about thoroughbred horse racing as anywhere in the country, they believe in the effort and the work we do day in and day out to ensure that we’re offering a save environment for thoroughbreds to compete at the highest level.”