When racing resumes at Santa Anita a new set of enhanced safety measures for horses will be in place. Only six racing days remain on the track’s winter/spring schedule. Racing concludes June 23.

Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom pushing for increased equine safety at Santa Anita, but says it will finish the season. (Image: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

The track, with the support of various horsemen’s groups, are declining Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request that the track end its troubled current meeting at once. Twenty-nine horses have died through injury or heart issues since the track began its current meet on Dec. 26. Newsom’s appeal follows a similar call from US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for the track to suspend racing.

The historic racing plant is near Los Angeles, in Arcadia. Santa Anita officials say it’s responding to Newsom’s subsequent dictum calling for the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) and The Stronach Group (TSG), owner of Santa Anita Park, to immediately implement heightened safety measures and reviews to provide addition layers of protection for equine athletes.

Five-Member Review Team in Place

Starting Friday, CHRB Equine Medical Director Dr. Rick Arthur, DVM, and Chief Steward Darrel McHargue, will oversee a five-member team providing additional review of horses’ medical, training and racing history. This team is comprised of independent CHRB veterinarians and stewards. They are empowered to scratch horses that do not appear fit to compete.

Track officials say the horse safety review group will utilize a new, comprehensive evaluation protocol seeking to assist in determining if each individual horse is at elevated risk of injury before racing. These criteria will include any history on the veterinarian’s list and steward’s list as well as any medical history, race history, and physical observations of the horse. Horses on the veterinarian’s list or steward’s list are those excluded from racing until deemed healthy and fit for competition.

Each member of the review team must agree that the horse is not at elevated risk of injury in order to allow a horse to enter the starting gate. One dissenting member of the review team can prevent a horse from racing. Track management says the racing secretary must deny the entry of any such horse and regard the review team’s recommendation as final.

Horse Shortage Impacting Los Alamitos

Southern California horsemen are moving to Los Alamitos June 29 for an abbreviated race meeting when the Santa Anita’s season concludes. The Orange County track, largely a Quarter Horse facility, has trimmed its Thoroughbred meeting from 12 days to 10 in hopes of attracting larger fields. Scores of active Thoroughbred horses are fleeing the circuit. That, since Santa Anita suspended operations for most of March to investigate a rash of injuries and subsequent euthanizations.

The much-anticipated Del Mar meeting in northern San Diego County begins on July 17. This is the 80th season of racing where “The Turf Meets the Surf.” Del Mar rivals Saratoga in Upstate New York for the lead position racing handle and fan support during the summer months. Some fear the horse shortage could curtail the race days at Del Mar, as well.

Del Mar weathered its own rash of deadly racing injuries in 2016. That’s when 17 horses died during the track’s summer racing season.

Soon after, Del Mar reconditioned its dirt track to alter banking and composition. Additionally, the track installed a radiology and ultrasound facility for immediate testing of possible injuries. Entrants at Del Mar also are subject to four separate veterinarian inspections on race day to certify they are fit to compete.

Subsequently, only five horses died in 2017 and six during last year’s Del Mar racing season.