Santa Anita Park, which became a poster track for horse fatalities after a nightmarish 2018-2019 season, completed its Autumn Meet without a racing or training fatality.
The iconic Southern California track just concluded its 16-day Autumn meet, sending 1,106 horses racing over the dirt track and turf course. In addition, Santa Anita spokesman Mike Willman said in a release, horses recorded more than 51,200 training sessions, including 3,771 timed workouts on the main track and 487 over the inner training track.
Santa Anita’s main dirt track didn’t suffer a racing fatality in 2020. That span includes the 2019-2020 Winter/Spring Meet that began in December and ran through June, with a hiatus for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These results are the efforts of the racing community to put the safety of the horse first at every turn, including additional veterinary regulation and observations, training approvals, and analysis of entries,” said Aidan Butler, CEO of 1/ST Racing. “Last year, we set a course to reform the sport of horse racing for the next generation. This year, we are seeing the results of the hard work everyone has put into this effort.”
Major Changes Resulted From Fatalities
That hard work manifested itself through rules Santa Anita’s owner, The Stronach Group, implemented through a concerted safety plan that took many elements into account. The track instituted mandatory veterinarian checks, issued rules on medications and how long before a race vets can administer them, and new rules cracking down on how jockeys can use their riding crops.
The new rules took their toll on Santa Anita’s field sizes, which remained small, but comparable to last year’s fall meet. Field sizes averaged 7.11 horses this year compared to 7.14 last year.
Santa Anita endured five racing fatalities from 5,069 starts in 2020. That’s 0.98 fatalities per 1,000 starts, well below the average of 1.58 per 1,000 races the Jockey Club Equine Industry Database recorded in 2019.
Santa Anita Took Its Share of Hits Across Many Bows
Compare that to the 49 deaths Santa Anita endured between July 2018 and June 2019.
That sparked a state investigation which eventually cleared the track of any wrongdoing, turned protestors loose, and re-opened cries to ban horse racing in the state – and elsewhere. During Santa Anita’s pandemic-related shutdown last spring, more than a few horsemen and industry insiders believed the track was closed longer than necessary as a pretext to close the facility.
Lending credence to this was the Los Angeles County Arboretum right across the street from Santa Anita. It remained open while Santa Anita shuttered from late March to mid-May.
“We acknowledged last year that this modernization would likely lead to a short-term impact on Santa Anita’s field size, but as these reforms became the national standards, California is ahead of the implementation curve, which strengthens the sport in our state,” Butler said. “We sincerely thank the bettors who have continued to support our racing product during this transition.”