Progress Has Been Made

Recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom discussed horse racing, and it was not in a positive light.

In a New York Times article dated September 23, 2019, Newsom issued the following: “What happened last year was unacceptable, and all of the excuses be damned. We own that going into the next season, and we’re going to have to do something about it. I’ll tell you, talk about a sport whose time is up unless they reform. That’s horse racing. Incredible abuses to these precious animals and the willingness to just to spit these animals out and literally take their lives is a disgrace.”

The Governor is correct that the 30 deaths at Santa Anita is way too many, but he also did NOT mention multiple pieces of important information.

First, he said something must be done. The truth is that a lot has been done over the course of the last few months.

Let's have a look:

By the time racing resumed at Santa Anita on March 29 following a nearly one month suspension of live programs, 22 horses has passed on. From that time to the end of the meet, which was on June 24th, 8 had passed. Again, 30 horses is too many, but protocols that had been implemented, such as a five person team of veterinarians and stewards that ALL must clear a horse to participate in a race (those members are also charged with reviewing all medical, racing, and training histories of horses), clearly had a positive effect in lowering the rate of fatalities.

Furthermore, the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in California, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) agreed to the following:

-Complete transparency of all veterinary records.

-Strict limitations on the use of any pain or anti-inflammatory medication and treatment, including legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.

-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 (OCT).

-Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race.

-A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.

There are additional methods for equine safety being employed as well. The Stronach Group has bought a Longmile Positron Emission Tomography (MILE-PET) machine that gives images of a horse's ankle. This will be a tremendous help in equine safety.

Another machine in use is the EquineSpa, which uses ice-cold salt water to treat horses.

This point must be made as well. Between March 21st and May 17th, a total of 46 days, there were no fatalities of any kind. Combine that with thousands of workouts that took place at that time, and it is clear safety enhancements were showing strong results.

The Governor also did not mention that the summer meet at Los Alamitos, which ran from June 29-July 14th and Del Mar's annual summer meet, which ran from July 17th-September 2nd. Both meets were completed with zero race day fatalities.

Del Mar was also quite active in implementing components to its comprehensive safety plan. The following comes from the track's website, dated July 2, 2019.

-Entry Review Panel: All horses entered to race at Del Mar will be reviewed by a five-person panel consisting of: CHRB Equine Medical Director, Dr. Rick Arthur; two CHRB veterinarians - Dr. William Farmer and Dr. Timothy Grande; CHRB Chief Steward, Darrel McHargue and CHRB Safety Steward, Luis Jauregui. The panel will provide additional review of horses’ medical, training and racing history. The panel will recommend to the Stewards that any horse that it deems unfit for competition be declared from racing.

-Medication Reform: Del Mar is adopting additional reforms modeled after the International Federation Horseracing Association (IFHA) requirements. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), that were allowed previously up to 24 hours in advance of a race, will be restricted to 48 hours before either a race or workout. The time period that allowed therapeutic usage of corticosteroids in joint treatment has been extended from the previous length of three days before a race to 14 days and horses will not be allowed to start until after the 14-day window.

-Increases in out-of-competition testing: Random testing will be instituted for any horses stabled at Del Mar, including horses readying for - or having just completed - morning workouts.

-Enhanced stable security: Working in conjunction with the investigative staff of the CHRB, an enhanced stable security team will monitor all aspects of the stable area to ensure that rules are properly followed.

-Additional veterinary protocols for morning training: Veterinarians will be stationed at elevated observation points at the facility to oversee morning workouts and will have the ability – through communication with outriders – to remove horses from the racetrack and have them undergo a follow-up examination for soundness.

Restricted use of the riding crop during morning workouts: Riders are prohibited from striking with the crop, crop use is limited to corrective safety measures during morning workouts. Del Mar will continue to work with the CHRB and the Jockey’s Guild on additional guidelines for riding crop use.

-Stakeholder Advisory Committee: DMTC has created a stakeholder advisory committee represented by trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, racing surfaces maintenance personnel and management that will meet regularly to discuss safety practices, operations and track surfaces.

The number needs to be emphasized: There were zero race day fatalities.

That clearly demonstrates the teamwork and commitment of those in California racing. These new protocols have been taken seriously, and there has been significant progress during the last few months.

Moreover, the Governor missed something very key. He failed to say anything about the 77,000 workers employed in various capacities by the industry here in the Golden State. To lose Thoroughbred racing would mean their lives would undergo a tremendous upheaval. And there are many who fear becoming homeless, and California is in the midst of a major homeless problem, particularly in Los Angeles.

This brings us to another point. The backstretch workers, those folks who tend to the horses each day, treat horses better than they treat themselves. This has been said more than once. Thoroughbreds are treated like family at the tracks, and as someone who has visited the stables at Santa Anita, yours truly can tell you that Thoroughbreds are indeed treated like family.

The Governor does not seem to be aware of the efforts, love and care that the backstretch workers give horses each day. They are up before dawn taking care of these equines, and they are everyday people like we are. They are making their way through life, like we are.

And don't forget there are people employed in racing who do not even work in the stables. Ticket and program sellers, media personnel, pari-mutuel clerks, these are just some of the people who show up to make a living each day.

Those in California racing, particularly those who work at the racetracks, have had a highly intense year. Their future can be described as uncertain, but they are resilient, and they are not giving up. Their rally at Santa Anita on June 20th is proof of that, and you can read about the rally, and some of the individuals who workin racing everyday, by clicking on the following links:

Backstretch Workers Rally Article 1

Backstretch Workers Rally Article 2

Backstretch Workers Rally Article 3

What happened this spring and winter should never have happened. We can all agree on that. But, the Governor's omission of the enhancements in safety protocols, the successful Los Alamitos and Del Mar summer meets, and the thousands of workers that could be adversely affected, must be brought to light as well. All of that information should have been mentioned, and it has been mentioned here.

Also, it should be noted the New York Times article did not talk about any of that, either. And that, quite frankly, is inexcusable.

It has been a rough 2019 for California racing, but it is clear progess has been made.


Published by Support California Horse Racing, October 1, 2019