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Horses dying at Kentucky Derby ... are Rillito Racetrack horses in danger?


As it were, the Spring 2023 season at the Rillito Racetrack, running from February 4th to April 2nd, was the test run for STRIDESafe technology before it was used at the Kentucky Derby.  Racetrack management was very interested in this new technology since it is marketed as a safety product, allowing advance notice if a horse is experiencing stride changes that signal a potential for injury.  And the previous season had been disastrous, with five horse deaths.  There are numerous factors explaining these deaths (see side bar).

Meanwhile, unlike the Rillito 2022 season and the 2023 Kentucky Derby, there were no horse deaths at Rillito this season.  All hands were on deck, including University of Arizona students in the Race Track Industry Program, to ensure there would not be an embarrassing and costly repeat of the 2022 season.  Horses showing any sign of compromise were ordered pulled out from racing. While Rillito officials say the fortunate lack of horse deaths is “thanks to the new STRIDESafe program”, there are no examples of a horse being pulled because of sensor information.  Also, the lack of injuries and deaths could easily be due to the fact that there were simply very few races scheduled, only 140, for an incident to occur in (compared to 1,600 at the 2023 Kentucky Derby). 

Kentucky Derby officials are touting the life-saving STRIDESafe devices as part of an ongoing safety initiative, saying it provides "cause for optimism” in the face of the 12 horse deaths this season.  But the obvious question is not being asked: If the device is so good at predicting injury and death, why did all those horses wearing them at the Derby end up dead?  Do the benefits of early detection outweigh the costs from exposure to microwave radiation?


As Arthur Firstenberg says, if national horse racing authorities and horse owners acknowledge that microwave radiation is a potential factor in horse deaths and get rid of these wireless devices, it will be “an opportunity to educate the rest of the world as well and catalyze a change of direction for us all”.   


Let’s keep an eye on this situation in Tucson. 

Explanations for 2022 horse deaths at Rillito Racetrack

This 2022 season coincided with the horse racing come-back after the COVID-19 shutdown, including the return of the acclaimed Rillito Park Equine Wellness Program marked by careful veterinary tracking of horse’s health.  This program was not fully up and running at the beginning of the season, and due to a staff shortage, there was no one to perform pre-race exams on all horses.  Further the season’s kickoff was “rushed and last minute”.  Another factor cited was the greatly increased prize money over the previous season, a four-fold increase (from $25,000 to $100,000), which attracted owners of horses that may not have been sound to race. 


March 1, 2022.  “Goreé: Arizona Horse Tracks Are ‘A Killing Field’ And It Has To Stop.”  Paulick Report, Letter to the Editor from                            Rory Goreé, Commissioner and Chairman, Arizona Racing Commission.  

March 27, 2022.  “Officials: 3 more horses die at Rillito Racetrack, bringing total up to 7.” Arizona Daily Star.

January 19, 2023.  “Rillito to test StrideSafe Sensors at 2023 Mixed Meet.” Paulick Report.

May 16, 2023 “Rillito Racetrack announces no horse breakdowns during 2022 season, thanks to new StrideSAFE program.”                               (Note: 2022 is mis-typed and should be 2023).  KOLD News 13.

May 25, 2023.  “StrideSAFE a bright spot amid fatalities at Churchill.” By Byron King in Bloodhorse Magazine.

June 2, 2023.  “Churchill Downs, home of Kentucky Derby, suspends racing after 12 horses die.”  By Dennis Romero, NBC News.

June 5, 2023.  “New GPS technology could prevent future horse deaths at Churchill Downs.”  By Madeline Carter, WLWT5 News.

June 8, 2023.  “Racehorses at Churchill Downs.”  By Arthur Firstenberg, Cellular Phone Task Force Newsletter.

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