Equine fatalities at New York Racing Association racetracks have significantly lessened in recent years. However, some trainers consistently send out horses that breakdown at a higher rate than the average. The data used for this study comes from the New York State Gaming Commission database. It follows that the most breakdowns go to those barns that start the most horses. Percentages, however, tell a different story.
Dr. Scott E. Palmer, DVM, recently testified at a New York State Senate public hearing that after a spate of equine fatalities at Aqueduct Race Track during the winter of 2011-2012, there has been a 46% reduction in racing fatalities at Thoroughbred racetracks in New York, including NYRA’s three racetracks, Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga, and Finger Lakes.
Palmer reported that racing fatalities in New York in 2018 averaged 1.29 per 1,000 starts, well under the national average of 1.68.
By comparison, Churchill Downs was second highest in the nation last year at 2.73 per 1,000, and Santa Anita, which suffered a rash of fatalities this winter, averaged 2.36 fatalities per 1,000 starts for 2016-2017 season, the latest listing made available by the California Horse Racing Board.
The New York State Gaming Commission’s Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury and Incident Database is a great source of information and, despite Palmer’s good work, the numbers therein are disturbing.
Trainers with large, medium and small stables all have sent out horses which met their demise on NYRA racetracks. Larger barns, as stated, have higher mortality figures but small to medium-sized outfits are of greater concern when measured against the larger ones.
A five-year HorseRaceInsider study, from July 28, 2014 through July 27, 2019, focuses on NYRA’s deadliest trainers. Some with the higher numbers were expected empirically, others were surprising.
The top ten are listed below. Just beneath those are two worthy of a dishonorable mention; John T. Toscano Jr. and Patrick Quick, two smaller outfits who both have had five equine fatalities in five years.
Toscano averages a bit under 300 starts per year and Quick averages only 75 starters, making his percentage much higher. The figures on Quick show one death per 77, percentage-wise the deadliest trainer at NYRA tracks. By comparison, Toscano has one fatality for each 290 starters.
Tied in a triple dead-heat for 10th with six mortalities each are, Danny Gargan; former jockey turned trainer Randi Persaud, and the recently retired David Jacobson. Gargan averages just over 230 starts per year, 1-for-293 starters, Persaud averages over 250 starters and is 1-for-258. Jacobson averaged just under 600 starts per year. Statistically, he was 1-for-489.
Looking at this from the other side, Gargan has 292-of-293 starters return without fatal consequences, Persaud is 257-for-258, and Jacobson was 488-for-489.
Gary Gullo, a second-generation trainer, has seven, a significant number considering a relatively small operation with an average of 225 starts per year, which works out to one death for every 162 runners.
Tom Morley also has a small operation, which makes his eight equine fatalities in five years an unpleasant surprise. His average of one death for every 142 starters leads the top-ten list of deadliest trainers at NYRA tracks. Morley, like Gullo, only starts about 225 horses each year.
Tied with Morley at seventh with eight dead horses is Jeremiah Englehart. Father Chris Englehart had nine fatalities and rates sixth, giving the family a combined total of 17, very disturbing statistic. The father-son combination each average about 700 starts per year. The elder Englehart has one death for every 378 starters; the younger is 1-for-446.
The top five deadliest trainers at NYRA are all in double figures, averaging two or more deaths per year.
Linda Rice is fifth with ten euthanized horses that broke down at NYRA tracks. Rice averages approximately 660 starts per year and one death for every 330 starters.
Rudy Rodriquez, another jockey turned trainer, ranks fourth with 11 equine fatalities. Rodriquez averages over 700 starters per year with a fatality rate of 1-for-325.
Tied for second with 12 each are Chad Brown, whose sheer numbers diminish his percentage and Gary Contessa, who has far fewer horses than Brown and averages over 500 starts per year. Brown averages over 650 runners each year and has one death for every 314 starters. Contessa averages one in every 222 starts, making Contessa’s figures deadlier than Brown’s.
The highest number of equine deaths belongs to Todd Pletcher, whose 16 deaths in five years averages 3.2 per year. However, the overall percentage is lower. Pletcher starts nearly 1,110 horses yearly and has a fatality rate of 1-for-339.
Expecting zero equine deaths per trainer is unrealistic but some of these numbers are excessive. The NYSGC should look into the data to determine if any trainers have records that are outside the boundaries of reason.
Isn’t it better that racing officials do the culling before legal authorities, spurred on by an unknowing public, decide that the sport’s right to exist is no longer worth their time and effort?