Why Are Horses Dying At Rillito Racetrack?

Written By Play AZ Editorial Team on April 11, 2022 - Last Updated on January 30, 2023
horse tracks

In Tucson, Arizona, Rillito Racetrack faces increased scrutiny after seven horses died in the first five weeks of the 2022 racing season. Four horses died on opening weekend at the horse track, and three more have died since then.

These deaths come as Turf Paradise racetrack in Phoenix is also experiencing a wave of horse deaths.

Rillito officials say some deaths are from non-race-related accidents and have implied that they didn’t have enough time to prepare for the season. Still, animal rights activists are putting pressure on race tracks in the state to shut down until the issues are identified.

Breakdowns caused most of the deaths at the horse track

One death on the opening weekend at Rillito came after two horses collided during a race. These types of accidents are impossible to predict. The racetrack likely won’t face any backlash for accidental horse deaths resulting from collisions.

“Breakdown” caused five of the other horse deaths. These are a more significant concern for the Rillito Racetrack. Horses that experience breakdown have generally suffered from a leg injury that ends the horse’s career.

If the leg injury is so severe that the horse cannot walk or stand, the horse is put down.

These breakdowns can happen when a horse suffers an injury during a race. Horses with preexisting issues are often more susceptible to these types of career-ending leg injuries.

Animal rights activists ask the government to step in

Is gambling in Arizona on horse races to blame?

Well, Rillito isn’t the only track in the state to face issues, and the drive to win attractive purses has upped the stakes.

Twenty-four horses have died at Turf Paradise in Phoenix during the 2022 racing season. In February, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to the Arizona Department of Gaming Division requesting that the ADGD suspend racing operations at the Turf Paradise racetrack.

Rillito has prevented horse deaths in the past

When a racetrack identifies a preexisting injury in a horse, the track operators typically pull the horse from the race. Officials at Rillito Racetrack say they’ve removed 50 horses from races this year due to preexisting injuries.

Rillito has a protocol that helps the track identify horses at risk for career-ending injuries. The program has worked well in the past. There were no deaths at Rillito Racetrack in 2019.

Rillito has had little chance to improve the wellness program in subsequent years. The 2020 racing season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 season was canceled entirely.

The Rillito Park Foundation has formed a task force in response to the recent rash of horse deaths. This task force will make recommendations to the track that could help prevent deaths in the future.

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