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Horse Fatalities at Santa Anita Racetrack
Compiled by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.
On Tuesday, June 11, 2019 Gov. Gavin Newsom of California called for a moratorium on racing at Santa Anita Park, The New York Times reported. Gavin said he “continues to be troubled by the horse deaths at Santa Anita Park” and wants all horses evaluated by independent veterinarians.
Following the death of Formal Dude, a 4-year-old gelding who suffered a fractured pelvis during a race on Saturday June 8 and was euthanized, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) asked that park owners halt racing and forgo the remaining days of its meet, which ends June 23, The Washington Post reported. But the CHRB does not have the authority to suspend a meet or remove race dates without the approval of the racetrack operator.
On Monday June 10, California U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein joined the CHRB and called again for suspension of racing at Santa Anita, according to NBC News Los Angeles and The Washington Post.
The track’s owner, the Stronach Group, stated that the park will stay open through the end of its meet. The Group also said it’s “collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport … to reform and improve racing every day,” The New York Times reported.
According to Horse Network, reforms began at Santa Anita after the 22nd death, which included a ban on race-day anti-bleeding medication furosemide (aka Lasix) and restrictions on the use of whips by jockeys. Owners also promised to invest in equipment to better diagnose potentially dangerous existing conditions in horses prior to being allowed to race, but that has not yet happened.
“Earlier in the meet, deaths were primarily euthanizations from breakdowns occurring on the main dirt track, which replaced the artificial Pro-Ride synthetic surface in 2010 after issues resulting in horse breakdowns were reported on that surface. Track defenders have pointed to unusually high rainfall during this year’s California winter as the potential cause,” Horse Network reported.
“Others cite the common use drugs like furosemide and bisphosphonates that aid in the treatment of bone loss, but “hide” potentially serious physical defects. Others cite cruelty in the unregulated use of whips in racing in the U.S.
“Recent deaths have occurred from assorted other causes including heart attack, a broken pelvis, and broken shoulder. These causes underscored the need for mandatory pre-race physical testing of all horses,” Horse Network reported.
A comprehensive list and details for each of the first 21 fatalities between Dec. 26 and Mar. 6 was published in the Los Angeles Times. During the current meet, horse deaths at Santa Anita are more than double the rate nationwide, Horse Network reported.
ABC News reported on Wednesday, June 12, that California horse racing regulators will require all horses to undergo independent reviews before they’re allowed to race at Santa Anita. The CHRB and the Stronach Group agreed that independent teams of five veterinarians and stewards would review every horse’s medical, training, and racing history. The review team will be authorized to scratch a horse if just one team member decides it doesn’t appear fit to run, said Rick Baedeker, executive director of CHRB.
Owners and officials at the park initiated the pre-race evaluation among concerns that the Breeders’ Cup might be moved to Del Mar Park or to Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky or to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, which hosted the Breeders’ Cup in 2018. The Breeders’ Cup is scheduled for November 1-2, 2019.
National Horse Racing Reforms
On Wednesday, June 12, 2019 U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) introduced the Horseracing Integrity Act in the Senate. The legislation would create a uniform national standard for drug testing that would be overseen by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
The Senate bill is nearly identical to the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 (H.R. 1754), introduced by Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY), but the Senate version includes the requirement that horse sellers notify buyers if a horse being sold has ever been treated with bisphosphonates, a medication that may be harmful to bone development in young horses, according to the Paulick Report.
The Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority would be governed by a board of six members who have demonstrated expertise in a variety of horse-racing areas, six individuals from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and its chief executive officer. USADA is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the U.S. Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports.
For more information and to read a copy of the proposed legislation,visit horseracingintegrity.com.
Update June 28, 2019
A press release received this date: Statement from Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason:
“Keeneland fully supports the decision of the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors to keep the 2019 World Championships at Santa Anita. We know it was not undertaken lightly, and required extensive thought and discussion by all parties involved. Given the continued reforms implemented by The Stronach Group for the safety of horses and jockeys, Santa Anita has positioned itself to be an appropriate host site for this year’s World Championships. The Breeders’ Cup has the best interest of our equine and human athletes at the heart of every decision it makes, and this one is no exception.”
The Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita Park on November 1-2, 2019.
Fortin, Jacey and Kevin Draper. 2019. “California Governor, Citing 29 Horse Deaths, Calls for Hold on Racing at Santa Anita Park.” The New York Times. June 11.
Butler, Des. 2019. “Two more horses die at Santa Anita as track resists recommendation to suspend racing.” The Washington Post. June 10. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/06/10/two-more-horses-die-santa-anita-track-resists-recommendation-suspend-racing/?utm_term=.be816d3bbdb3
Gross, Richard R. 2019. “Unprecedented Reforms Instituted at Santa Anita Park in Wake of Calls for Track Closure. Horse Network. June13.
Li, David K. and Alex Johnson. 2019. “Santa Anita starts independent reviews of all horses after deaths rise to 29.”NBC News. June 12. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/after-horse-deaths-santa-anita-rise-29-california-governor-calls-n1016776
Helsel, Phil. 2019 “Feinstein again calls on Santa Anita to suspend racing after horse deaths.” NBC News. June 10. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/sen-feinstein-again-calls-santa-anita-suspend-racing-after-horse-n1016046
Cherwa, John. 2019. “Santa Anita’s 21 horse racing fatalities range from lightly raced to a Breeders’ Cup Champion.” LA Times. March 6.
Press Release. 2019. “Gillibrand, McSally Introduce Horseracing Integrity Act in U.S. Senate.” Paulick Report. June 12. https://www.paulickreport.com/news/the-biz/gillibrand-mcsally-introduce-horseracing-integrity-act-in-u-s-senate/
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