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Three horses euthanized at Wyoming Downs

(Photo by Wyoming Downs)

By Hayden Godfrey
Uinta County Herald
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

EVANSTON — Three two-year-old horses were euthanized on Saturday, June 17, after falling during races at Wyoming Downs north of Evanston. 

Because the injuries happened at different locations on the track, the following races continued as scheduled. 

In a phone interview with the Herald, Wyoming Gaming Commission Executive Director Charles Moore referenced a meeting on Tuesday, June 20, during which he said an investigation is in place. 

More information will be available at the commission’s July 19 meeting. 

Beyond that, he said, “It’s very sensitive, and there’s nothing to add.” 

“Three fatalities in one day at one track is not just a coincidence,” said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo in a statement. “It’s a massacre.” 

Guillermo called for the immediate suspension of racing, pending a comprehensive investigation. 

Downs owner Eric Nelson told the Herald the following weekend’s races were slated to proceed with additional precautions. 

“There are more exams on the horses, more exams on the track itself and a little bit more information coming in on issues that happened Saturday,” he said. 

Nelson said all races take place with veterinarians; stewards, who monitor the races to ensure adherence to guidelines; and paramedics, present at the track. 

“We actually have an ambulance onsite for every time they’re training and every time we’re operating,” he said. 

Before the races on June 24, Nelson reiterated that no race takes place without EMTs and a “horse ambulance” at the ready. 

Nelson said that after seeing the second horse fall on June 17, track personnel began to analyze track conditions, fall locations and other factors. 

The Downs will see one to two deaths in a season, making three in a day anomalous. 

He said the common traits among the horses were their ages and residences. 

“They all came from Utah, they were all two years of age…” 

Nelson  said the horses may have been relatively untrained due to the harshness of last winter and the horses’ shoulder injuries suggested a lack of conditioning may have contributed. 

He added that if there were an issue with the track, the jockeys would have taken it up with him. 

“If the track conditions are unsafe, they won’t ride,” he said. “Not one of them complained.” 

The thoroughbred races, he said, had gone off without a hitch, again indicating the issue may have been one of conditioning. 

“Thoroughbreds, generally speaking, are more conditioned,” he said.

According to Nelson, racing two-year-old horses is not irregular. He said over 600 horses had practiced on the track without issue between June 17 and June 24. 

Guillermo told the Herald she believed the issue was, rather, one of excessive conditioning, stating that the majority of broken bones are a result of overtraining, giving the horses insufficient time to recuperate. 

“Your body needs time,” she said. “A horse’s body is the same.” 

She said she believes the WGC investigation should be more transparent, with public release of toxicology panels, autopsies and trainer questioning. 

In response, Nelson said all precautions are already in place, and some incidents are impossible to prevent entirely. 

“Unfortunately, it’s a risk of the sport…. If anyone puts their child in a sport, they don’t want them to get hurt,” he said, “but it’s the parents and child who make that decision.” 

He emphasized the affection owners have for their horses. 

“You have to understand these horses are owned by individuals that love racing,” he said, “but they love their animals more.” 

Rich Gladfelder, a Utah businessman and horse owner, attested to that during the June 24 races, stating that owners and trainers only race horses that are physically and mentally fit to race. 

He offered an anecdote, describing his purchase of a horse and his trainer’s subsequent advice to sell it, as he had judged the animal had a bone structure ill-suited to the track. 

Other horses, he said, do not enjoy racing.

“My job,” Gladfelder said, “is to make sure they’re safe and in the best condition they can be in.” He commended the Downs staff for its response to the injuries.

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