Cross-posted from North County Times
Written by JEFF NAHILL
DEL MAR — When a 3-year-old gelding named Burns was injured in the clubhouse turn of the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 4, jockey Patrick Valenzuela jumped off as quickly as he could. But there was no saving the thoroughbred, which suffered broken sesamoids and had to be euthanized.
It was the 12th fatality —- and fourth on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course —- at the 37-day Del Mar Thoroughbred Club meeting, which ended last Wednesday. There were eight fatal injuries on the synthetic Polytrack —- two as a result of racing and six occurring in morning workouts. There were five total fatalities in 2010.
Del Mar’s turf course was installed for the 1960 season. Del Mar made its main track Polytrack in 2007 after a mandate from the California Horse Racing Board to all state racetracks to install synthetic surfaces in order to cut down on fatalities, even though horsemen believe it reduces a thoroughbred’s natural speed.
“I’d like it to be none,” Del Mar CEO Joe Harper said of this season’s fatalities. “It seemed to be the consensus of the horsemen, (it was) bad luck. Some years you have three and some years you have 20.”
Leif Dickinson, Del Mar’s turf superintendent, immediately raced to the area where Burns had been injured.
“I was just looking to see if there was an obvious spot where the horse hit a divot, a hole, anything. I couldn’t find anything,” Dickinson said Thursday. “We talked to Patrick and it just looks like it was a bad step. We try to do a good job of putting this turf course back every day. We honestly couldn’t find anything.”
Owner and breeder Madeline Auerbach was in the stands, crestfallen. Burns, an apple-loving thoroughbred who won the La Jolla Handicap just weeks before, had grown to be one of her favorites. Although she is upset about the loss, Auerbach understands sometimes there is no explaining why horses get hurt.
“This is a part of racing,” she said. “There’s nobody to blame except the racing gods, who love to play these little games.” Read more >>