Catastrophic breakdown in Pa. calls for tracks to better prepare for emergency veterinary care


A fatal injury of a racehorse during training has some questioning the racetrack's responsibility in maintaining a veterinarian on call even during non-racing events.

Grantville, Pa. — Media attention surrounding a fatal injury of a racehorse during training has some questioning the racetrack's responsibility in maintaining a veterinarian on call even during non-racing events.


The accident occurred during a Sunday morning training session at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Court in Grantville, Pa. The 4-year-old filly Langfurs Answer suffered a severe fracture in her lower leg during a routine gallop. Just after the horse stumbled and fell to the track, a veterinarian and horse ambulance were called immediately. The ambulance arrived, but there wasn't a veterinarian available to treat or euthanize the horse.

In fact, there was no commissioned veterinarian or private veterinarian on the grounds that morning. Subsequent calls took an hour and 10 minutes until an associate arrived to euthanize the horse.

Because of the incident, some are calling for better communication between tracks, owners, trainers and veterinarians to ensure care is always available to horses and riders—even during training.

Scott Palmer, VMD, Dipl. ABVP, chair of the Racing Committee for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, says the heart of the issue is identifying who is responsible for ensuring veterinarians are on site during racing and training hours. Riders and horses are both athletes whose care must be safeguarded, he says.

"It's incumbent on us when we hold those events to be responsible for the safety of both those athletes," Palmer says.

It makes sense to have both a veterinarian and a doctor on call; those are basic requirements, Palmer says. For the most part, those needs are met. But there are times when there are no races going on that a veterinarian isn't present, and that can result in discomfort and suffering for an injured horse, he says.

"The bottom line is that veterinarians should be made available, and during racing hours they definitely are," Palmer says. But training times are another story. Some tracks might argue that they can't afford to keep a veterinarian on duty at all hours.

"I think that's an argument that doesn't hold water. There's certain costs involved with holding a race meet, and maintaining safety for horses and riders is just fundamental," he says.

Others argue horse owners and trainers should provide their own veterinarian.

"It's all well and good to say the racetrack should be required to have a veterinarian on site, and it's true," Palmer says. "But there's also some fundamental responsibility of the horse owner and trainer, and, to some degree, people who ride horses or train horses have some responsibility for the safety of the horses in their care.

"The more I think about it, I think it's the responsibility of the racetrack. You'd think you could set up training hours and just have a vet on site and that would be the end of it."

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture agrees. Samantha Elliott Krepps, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, says state code requires racetracks ensure the health and safety of horse and riders during races and training. That means the racetracks must provide ready access to emergency veterinary care during training and racing events, the racetrack surface must be maintained, outriders must be properly trained and emergency staff must be well-trained and equipped.

The state sent a memo to Penn National in August 2010 reminding the track about the requirements of the state code, Elliott Krepps says. The state racing commission is now investigating the incident, she adds.

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