Santa Anita remains open; enhanced equine safety measures now in place

June 17, 2019
Maureen McKinney, Associate Editorial Director

Racing at the track, on which 29 horses died this season, will continue as planned until June 23, but a review team will first evaluate all horses for fitness.

Cheryl Ann Quigley/stock.adobe.com

When 4-year-old gelding Formal Dude was euthanized June 8 after suffering a pelvis fracture at Santa Anita Park, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) asked the track to cancel races there for the remainder of its season.

Closing the track, the CHRB said in a statement released after questions from the Los Angeles Times, “would provide the industry more time to fully implement announced safety initiatives and perhaps additional ones.”

But track officials refused to close, citing reductions in catastrophic injuries in racing and training horses by 50% and 84%, respectively, following reforms put in place earlier in the meet.

As a regulatory agency, the CHRB does not have the authority to suspend or cancel races without approval of track management unless it first schedules a meeting with a 10-day public notification period.

On June 9, the 29th horse this season lost its life at the track. A 3-year-old filly named Truffalino reportedly collapsed and died during a race. The official cause of death is believed to be a heart attack.

With just one weekend of racing remaining in the track's season, CHRB officials have convened a five-member review team-led by Equine Medical Director Rick Arthur, DVM, and Chief Steward Darrel McHargue-to evaluate the horses' medical, training and racing history before being allowed to compete at the park.

“Under the new protocol, every member of the review team must agree that the horse is not at elevated risk of injury in order to clear a horse to race,” according to a CHRB media release. That means a horse can be prevented from racing if only a single board member feels it is unsafe.

“This is unprecedented in American horse racing,” says Alexis Podesta, secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which oversees the CHRB, in the release. “Never have we had this additional layer of review with a team of experts to connect data points and confer on the well-being and capability of individual race horses. Furthermore, recommendations coming from this team will be the final word as to whether or not a horse races. I expect the industry as a whole will embrace this effort.”

The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and several other horse racing venues, has “agreed to instruct the racing secretary … to deny the entry of any such horse, and the review team's recommendation will serve as the final word,” according to the CHRB release.