On Saturday evening in the fourth race at Charles Town, a horse named Winningaswespeak lost rider Carlos Marrero, ran the wrong way up the track, and collided with another horse in the race, Frisky Dixie, ridden by Carlos Castro. A third horse, Fab Autumn Girl, tripped over Frisky Dixie and threw rider Ramon Maldonado. Though none of the three jockeys was seriously injured, Frisky Dixie had to be euthanized.
Under standard practice, once Winningaswespeak became turned around, the stewards should have declared the race a no contest, deployed the track’s emergency warning system, and dispatched the outriders to direct the jockeys to pull up their mounts.
That, however, did not happen. It’s near-miraculous that the outcome was not worse.
Charles Town’s emergency warning system itself — involving sirens and flashing lights — never went off. Its effectiveness immediately came into question.
But according to a Penn National Gaming, Inc. statement released this evening, the track upgraded its warning system about two years ago.
“We take the matter very seriously and the accident warning systems in place at all of our facilities meet or exceed the industry standards,” said Penn National Gaming’s Vice President of Racing Chris McErlean.
The West Virginia Racing Commission’s chief steward, Danny Wright, agreed. He told the Paulick Report (here) that it was not the functioning of the system that prevented its use on Saturday; it was the location of the button that would initiate it.
“There was no time for us to implement the warning on Saturday,” said Wright, a former jockey on the Maryland circuit. “That button to push was three doors down a hallway, past the placing judges and the announcer and around a corner. By the time we would have made it down there, the incident had already occurred. All you could do is hold your breath and pray.”
But in its statement, Penn National Gaming disputed that the location of the button contributed to the accident.
For one thing, the button is, according to the Penn National statement, “approximately 20 feet from the stewards’ location” and in the same location it has been for nearly 20 years.
For another, Charles Town’s vice president of racing operations, Erich Zimny, suggested that there certainly was sufficient time to deploy the system. “On Saturday night there was in excess of half a minute between the rider going down and the collision in order for someone to be alerted,” he said.
Yet, according to McErlean, no one was alerted.
“At no time during the incident in question were any of our personnel directed by the state racing stewards to deploy our warning system or to announce to the riders to pull their horses up, as has been the standard operating procedure during live racing,” he said.
Wright told the Paulick Report that a Monday morning meeting had led to a decision to locate an activation switch in the stewards’ room.
One thing all parties agree on is the importance of preventing a recurrence.
“In conjunction with the state racing stewards, we will be reviewing our policies again in light of what could have been an avoidable accident to ensure we can adequately address a similar situation going forward,” said McErlean.(Featured image by Jeff Brammer.)