Following the 23rd horse death at Santa Anita Park–and three-and-a-half months ahead of the Del Mar race season–concerns continue to mount over the safety of horse racing.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein Tuesday called on the California Horse Racing Board to suspend all racing at the Arcadia track, and hours later the board scheduled a special meeting to consider relocating races to other tracks.
Feinstein, D-California, sent a letter to the CHRB saying racing should be suspended at Santa Anita “until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated.”
“I also ask for more information about what the California Horse Racing Board is doing to both investigate this matter and address some of the concerns that these incidents have rightly raised,” Feinstein wrote.
The CHRB has announced a special meeting for April 12 — providing the required 10 days of public notice — to discuss “possible reallocation of race dates granted to the Los Angeles Turf Club at Santa Anita Park Race Track.”
No further details were immediately provided. There was no immediate comment from Santa Anita officials.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has urged the ownership group of Santa Anita Park 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.
Earlier this month, Mac McBride, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s director of media, told City News Service 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.
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, 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.”
Meanwhile, racing is scheduled to resume at Santa Anita on Thursday.
However, there won’t be any racing on the hillside turf course, where the injury leading to the most recent death occurred, racing board chairman Chuck Winner told the Daily Racing Form.
Winner said racing on the course would be suspended this week “to evaluate the circumstances” of the recent spill.
In response to an email from City News Service, Mike Willman, Santa Anita Park’s director of publicity, wrote, “All I can say is, if Chuck told DRF that, it must be accurate.”
Two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert told reporters Tuesday morning during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association conference call that he remains confident about the level of safety at Santa Anita.
“If I thought there was a danger out there, I wouldn’t even (send) my horses out there so I’m feeling good about what’s going on here. But I don’t want to jinx myself,” said Baffert, who noted that he hasn’t had any issues at the track since the racing season began Dec. 26.
“We’ve been under this dark cloud so hopefully we can move forward,” he said.
Baffert is expected to have two of his top 3-year-old colts — Game Winner and Roadster — in Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby.
The 23rd horse death at Santa Anita since Dec. 26 occurred Sunday when Arms Runner, a 5-year-old horse, suffered a severe and ultimately fatal injury to his right leg during the Grade 3 San Simeon Stakes on turf, resulting in a two-horse spill.
The trailing horse, La Sardane, fell but quickly got back on her feet.
Santa Anita had been closed to racing for most of March in response to the spate of horse deaths. Racing had just resumed Friday at the famed Arcadia track, one day after the California Horse Racing Board approved restrictions on certain medications administered to the animals.
The CHRB approved previously announced proposals to strictly limit the use of anti-inflammatory medications on horses. It also approved a much- discussed 50 percent reduction in the allowable amount of Lasix, a diuretic that helps prevent horses from hemorrhaging. Santa Anita officials had initially proposed a ban on Lasix, but struck a compromise with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers calling for a 50 percent reduction in allowable dosage.
Santa Anita officials previously announced a series of other measures being implemented to help bolster safety of the horses, including:
— Complete transparency of all veterinary records;
— Trainers must apply for permission to work a horse (a timed, high- speed training exercise) at least 48 hours in advance;
— No therapeutic medications of treatments will be allowed without a qualified veterinary diagnosis from a state licensed veterinarian;
— Significant and strict out-of-competition testing;
— Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race; and
— A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
Those measures, however, did not prevent animal-advocacy groups from protesting the resumption of racing at Santa Anita, who point to the dangers they say are inherent in the sport.
Between December and February of the previous year, 10 horses died at Santa Anita, compared with eight in 2016-17 and 14 in 2015-16. The track averaged about 50 deaths per year from 2008-18, according to data from the CHRB.
The unusually large amount of rain that has fallen over the Southland this winter has been mentioned as a possible factor in explaining the surge in deaths.
Former track superintendent Dennis Moore and Mick Peterson of Racing Services Testing Lab were brought in to conduct a thorough analysis of the main track, and officials repeatedly said they found no problems.
–Staff, wire reports