Horsemen are blaming poor track conditions for the startling number of racehorses destroyed so far during this meeting at Longacres Race Track.
Eleven horses have been destroyed because of racing injuries since the meet began in April, said Dr. John Procter, the Washington State Racing Commission's track veterinarian since 1987.
Four were destroyed in April, one each in May and June, and five were destroyed in July.
In 1988, 10 horses were destroyed as a result of racing accidents between April and July.
"This year it appears to me more than in previous years that a lot of them have injuries that terminate the racing career," Procter said. "A lot of it is the track."
Track conditions have drawn protests from both jockeys and animal-rights activists.
Even Michael Alhadeff, president of Longacres Race Track, lost a horse, Table Fifteen, in July. Earlier that day, a filly broke down in front of the grandstand and had to be destroyed.
The problems led track managers to bring in heavy machinery last week and rip up the entire track to a depth of about one foot, the most extensive maintenance since the surface was laid in 1933. The track had not been tilled in two years.
But even that renovation is considered short term.
Starting next week, discussion of a long-term solution will begin by an ad hoc committee of trainers, riders, owners and Longacres managers, with an outside soil engineer as consultant.
"I hear it all the time that this year has been an unusually hard track, that in the opinion of many it is not kind to horses," said Ed Moger, executive secretary of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Assn.
"It is a serious situation. . . . We've been struggling all year with this race track."
The track used to be resurfaced to a depth of eight inches four or five times a year, but for the last two years conditions did not warrant the maintenance, said Michael O'Donin, track general manager.
Procter said there generally are more injuries to horses in the last two months of the meet--August and September--because of fatigue.
Weather has also been a factor this year, Procter said, noting the wet spring. Hot weather began early and the track hardened. Training for the 125-day meet began Feb. 1 and racing started April 4.
In late May, some of the track's top jockeys, including last year's leader, Gary Boulanger, walked off their jobs for a day to protest track conditions.
On June 16, about 25 members of the Northwest Animal Rights Network staged a Longacres protest to decry the number of racing-related horse deaths at that time--five in two months--the state of the track and the use of drugs in Washington racing.
"Nobody wants to see these beautiful horses break down in front of the grandstand," said Ralph Vacca, general manager of the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Assn. "That turns all our stomachs."
Two months ago, the track and the HBPA hired John Koloski, a soil engineer with GeoEngineers Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., to examine the track. His recommendations were presented recently to the HBPA board and resulted in last week's track renovation.
Moger said the ad hoc committee will begin meeting this week to draw up a long-term solution. A report is expected in a month.
"The goal is to have a track that's kind to the animals," he said.