Tom Chuckas, president of track owner the Maryland Jockey Club, said he will ask the commission to enact even tougher claiming rules. He'd like any claimed horse to be forced to run in a higher-level race, with a purse of at least 25 percent more, the next time out. Tim Keefe, who has trained at Laurel since 1993, also favors forcing claimed horses to move up in class, though he knows some trainers will be against it.
"The idea of claiming is that they found a horse they can make better," he said.
Chuckas said his track maintenance crews have followed their usual schedule for keeping the track in shape. That includes 24-hour-a-day work on the track for most of the winter.
The report did not find the track culpable for the horse breakdowns but mentioned that one trainer thought the dirt might have been too deep. The injuries occurred at all parts of the track.
Keefe lost a filly, Crimson Gal, in the second race Jan. 11. She pulled up in the middle of the stretch with a leg fracture, and he hoped to save her. But X-rays at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania, where he'd taken her for surgery, showed it would "be more humane to let her go." A member of the horsemen's board, Keefe is troubled by the breakdowns but at a loss for an explanation.
"She was looking great, running great," he said. "This is sometimes part of it. The worst part. I wish there was an easy answer, but I don't see one."
Dickie Small grew up around the racetrack — his family has worked with horses since the beginning of the 1900s — and has trained in Maryland since 1971. He said this is one of the worst stretches for horse deaths that he can remember. He lost Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a promising 3-year-old, on Feb. 9 in the Miracle Wood Stakes, when the horse broke a leg coming down the stretch.
The race was won by Dynamic Strike, another of Small's horses and a training partner to Alpha Mike Foxtrot.
"In the circle, we had one horse getting the trophy and 100 yards away there was another getting put to sleep," he said. "One, I wanted to remember. The other, I wanted to forget as quickly as I could. He just ran too hard. They were both so good."
"But I don't know that there's an answer," Small added. "Hate to say it, but I think these things happen in groups sometimes. I wish there was a solution, but if there was one, I'd be the guy who was around long enough to have found it."