Two racehorses die in opening weekend of track

GRANTS PASS — A new surface at the Grants Pass Downs racetrack had raised hopes about reducing racehorse deaths until opening weekend brought injuries that ended with two horses put down.

"We're all sick about it," said Randy Evers, executive director of the Oregon Racing Commission.

Evers told the Mail Tribune newspaper in nearby Medford that he talked to exercise riders, trainers, jockeys and track officials who all said the track is in excellent condition.

The commission ordered the dirt track replaced after six horses died in the past two seasons.

The $225,000, three-phase resurfacing project stripped away 5,000 tons of old dirt, created a new track foundation and drainage system and added a new properly sloped racing surface.

Brenda Estes, 37, has eight horses in training at Grants Pass Downs. Fighting back tears, Estes said trainers never get used to losing horses.

But the track's surface should not be blamed for the recent injuries, she said.

The old footing was full of clay and silt. Horses were "slipping and sliding," she said. The new footing is sandy loam. It drains better and is easier on the horses' bodies, Estes said.

"It's definitely not the track," she said. "I've been training on this track all winter."

But on Saturday, track veterinarians euthanized two horses who broke down in the eighth race.

Sandita, a 5-year-old gelding, broke his right front ankle. Timely Brush, an 8-year-old stallion running near the rear of the pack, broke his left rear femur, Evers said.

Deaths and injuries to racehorses which occur during training are not monitored by the racing commission. Approximately 6,500 horses race each year on all of Oregon's tracks. The national mortality level has been set at 1.5 deadly breakdowns per 1,000 horses started in races, Evers said.

He said he reviewed tapes of the Saturday race and conferred with track officials.

"No matter what we do, there are going to be a certain amount of catastrophic injuries," Evers said.

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