Track at Santa Anita Park
The track at Santa Anita Park. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club urged the ownership group of Santa Anita Park Thursday to consider input from all stakeholders before making drastic changes to horse-racing activities.

The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park and five other horse-racing venues around the country, announced a ban on the use of race day medications and the use of whips to make horses run faster at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields on Thursday after a swell of horse deaths since late December. Early Thursday morning, Santa Anita saw its 22nd horse death since Dec. 26.

Stronach Group Chair and President Belinda Stronach announced the changes in an open letter shortly after the horse’s death. While Stronach’s letter included a seemingly assenting quote from Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO Joe Harper, a club spokesman suggested that Stronach and Santa Anita were “flying solo” in their changes.

“Del Mar is not flying with them,” Mac McBride, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s director of media, told City News Service.

McBride said that Santa Anita should pump the brakes on making major changes, even in the face of multiple horse deaths, unless they consult other horse-racing stakeholders such as jockeys, trainers and veterinarians. McBride also suggested that it’s difficult to make a direct link between race-day medications, whips and horse injuries.

Representatives with the Stronach Group did not respond to a City News Service request for comment.

Horse safety is paramount to the industry’s health and success, McBride said, and he allowed that Santa Anita is “in a difficult spot.”

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club had a similarly deadly racing season in 2016, when a total of 17 horses died during the track’s racing season. In comparison, only five horses died in 2017 and six during last year’s racing season.

After the 2016 season, Del Mar remade its dirt track in both banking and composition with the help of former track superintendent and consultant Dennis Moore. Del Mar also found ways to test the track’s surface using impact- gauging technology designed by Michael Peterson, a professor at the University of Maine and the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory.

Along the dirt track’s backstretch, Del Mar installed a radiology and ultrasound facility for immediate testing of possible injuries. In addition, Del Mar instituted four separate veterinarian inspections on the day of a race for each horse, ensuring that they are in peak racing condition.

While Del Mar did not offer a full-throated endorsement of the changes, McBride hopes that discussions will continue. Until then, the horse racing venue has a wait-and-see methodology.

“We have not done our due diligence yet,” McBride said. “Let’s get everybody involved.”

Del Mar’s 2019 racing season is scheduled to begin July 17.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.