Anyone with a passing interest in Thoroughbred racing or animal welfare is very familiar with the breakdown of horses at Santa Anita Park during their winter/spring meeting.
This meet opened on December 26 and finished on June 23. There were a total of 30 breakdowns, including races and workouts. On March 14, Belinda Stronach, President and Chairman of the Stronach Group, presented an open letter on the future of Thoroughbred racing in California. Some of the important safety initiatives included:
There were two additional important proposed initiatives that are significant but do not relate directly to breakdowns. One is a restriction on the use of Lasix. Starting in 2020, no 2-year-old will be able to run on Lasix, and, in 2021, all Santa Anita stakes races will be Lasix-free. Secondly, the Stronach Group is proposing both structural changes in the composition of the whip and a dramatic reduction in how it can be used by the jockey. These two initiatives will have to go through the rule-making process, including consultation with horsemen, before they can be voted on by the California Horseracing Board.
Hollendorfer facts are hard to digest
On June 22, a horse of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer broke down on the Santa Anita training track and had to be euthanized. Unfortunately, this was the fourth Hollendorfer horse to break down, racing or training, during the meet, and he also had two breakdowns during the Golden Gate meet, which ended on June 2 and will re-open on August 15.
Later on June 22, Hollendorfer was told by the Stronach Group he would no longer be allowed to race or train at Santa Anita and that the four horses that he had entered on the final two days of Santa Anita were scratched.
The further facts are hard for me to digest, so I imagine how Hollendorfer must feel. He was elected to the National Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, lifetime he has won 7,617 races from a total of 33,519 entered, and until June 22 he had over 100 horses in training in California. Other than being ruled off by the Stronach Group, he does not appear to have heard any further details of why he was suspended.
Most racing jurisdictions have one organization for owners and trainers. However, in California the owners are represented by the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and the trainers by their own organization, the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT). It is truly remarkable that, as of right now, the CTT has not come forward with a strong statement of support for Hollendorfer, who remains a licensee in good standing with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
An industry that has lost its soul
In sum, the industry is not full of change agents seeking new challenges and changing the business. However, as I tried to outline above, we are desperate to change in many areas. We need to identify and eliminate the cheaters in the game. We also need to protect the interests of our owners, breeders and employees to assure them that we run an honest business that works in the interests of all participants.
If we try to stand still with existing policies and business practices, we are only going to go backwards. I wrote what I thought was a very important article back on April 2. It was primarily stimulated by the most powerful case for reform in U.S. Thoroughbred racing and breeding that I have ever read: Vision 2025. If you are invested or interested in the U.S. Thoroughbred industry, you have to read this nine-page report.
I truly believe we are an industry that has lost its soul and its determination. We so desperately need the Horse Racing Integrity Act of 2019 and the important changes in the business model that the legislation requires. As I have tried to outline above, our current collection of industry organizations and regulatory bodies are simply going to bring the industry down. Please, no more ‘go along to get along’.
Source: Charles Hayward for TRC
Nearly 500 Thoroughbred racehorses died in the U.S. in 2018. Here’s why:
Each spring in the United States, the nation’s swiftest Thoroughbreds compete in the Triple Crown, a hundred-year-old series of three races. Fans don large hats, and jovial crowds gather to watch the elegant animals sprint down the track. Despite its popularity, horse racing is a dangerous sport for both horse and jockey. In the U.S. in 2018, 493 Thoroughbred racehorses died, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database.
Most of these deaths are the result of limb injuries, followed by respiratory, digestive, and multiorgan system disorders. In fact, most of the 23 horse deaths at the California racetrack Santa Anita Park in recent months were due to limb injuries.
Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, says the deaths may be because horse racing has become more competitive. Horses aren’t getting the rest they need, especially in temperate places like southern California, where the animals race year-round, he says.“It’s hard to keep an athlete absolutely at the top of their fitness 12 months out of the year.”
The unprecedented spate of fatalities at Santa Anita has also placed renewed focus on the safety of the sport. For instance, in March 2019, bipartisan U.S. lawmakers introduced a federal bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, that would create a uniform national standard for drug testing racehorses. The horse racing industry is currently regulated by states.
The Jockey Club, which works to improve Thoroughbred breeding and racing, supports the bill. “It’s time we joined the rest of the world in putting in place the best measures to protect the health and safety of our equine athletes,” the organization said in a statement.
While a broken leg is easily treatable for humans, it’s often a death sentence for horses. That’s because horses have so little soft tissue in their legs that the bone often tears through skin or cuts off circulation to the rest of the limb, leaving them prone to infection. In some severe cases, the bone shatters, making it nearly impossible to reassemble.
Even if the horse’s bone could be set, it wouldn’t be able to support weight for several weeks. If horses can’t distribute their weight relatively evenly, they risk laminitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of tissue inside the hoof. In general, if a horse can’t stand on all four legs on its own, it won’t survive and will be euthanized, Arthur says.
And when a horse falls, its jockey is often hurt, too. A 2013 analysis of about five years of California horse racing data showed 184 jockey injuries from 360 reported falls. Most of the falls occurred during races and were the result of a “catastrophic injury or sudden death of the horse,” the study found.
The drug controversy
Trainers have been accused of making an already risky situation worse by drugging horses with performance-enhancing substances or painkillers, animal welfare advocates say. Such drugs allow horses to run faster and power through the pain. For example, the drug furosemide, popularly known under the brand name Lasix, is a “performance-enhancing drug cloaked as a therapeutic medication,” according to a March report by the Jockey Club.
While it’s prescribed to treat bleeding in the lungs, the medication also causes urination and, consequently, weight loss. Lighter horses run faster, and Lasix has been shown to help horses run three to five lengths faster. The legality of each drug varies by state. (Read about the most detailed history of horse evolution ever assembled.)
While some animal activists feel such drugs should be banned, others in the horse racing industry believe better self-regulation is the answer. To that end, the proposed horse racing legislation would establish an independent, self-regulatory body—affiliated with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency—to regulate racehorse medication, list which substances are and are not permitted, and ban medications within 24 hours of racing.
Source: National Geographic
Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Judy Chu call for halt to racing at Santa Anita over 23 horse deaths
Two federal lawmakers are calling for the suspension of horse racing at Santa Anita Park until investigators determine the cause of 23 horse deaths in the last four months. Growing outrage over the repeated deaths has put the industry in a perilous position and cast a national spotlight on the famed Arcadia horse racing venue. Both the California Horse Racing Board and the Los Angeles County district attorney‘s office have launched investigations into the deaths.
On Tuesday, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to CHRB Chairman Chuck Winner asking the board to halt racing at Santa Anita. “The death of a single horse is a tragedy, but as a lifelong lover of horses, I’m appalled that almost two dozen horses have died in just four months,” Feinstein wrote in her letter.
‘Unique and serious problem’
Just a day earlier, Rep. Judy Chu, who has asked for a congressional inquiry into the deaths, said she believed racing should not continue. Chu described changes previously announced by Santa Anita’s owner as insufficient to address the problem. “It is clear to me that there is a unique and serious problem at Santa Anita that requires a more serious solution,” she said.
In a statement, CHRB spokesman Mike Marten said Winner has not received the letter from Feinstein, but he is aware of it and believes it is inappropriate to comment before having a discussion with the senator. The California Horse Racing Board does not have the authority to suspend racing, according to Winner, but the board plans to schedule a special meeting in the next 10 days in regard to future racing dates.
The 23rd horse was injured during a race and euthanized Sunday, just three days after the venue reopened from a two-week hiatus. Though the spike seems out of the ordinary, during last year’s season — which was one of the safest at Santa Anita — 18 racing and training deaths were reported from Dec. 29 to March 30, five less than the current total.
With a spotlight on it, Santa Anita’s problems could snowball into a crisis for horse racing in California. Even if the cause of the spike is corrected, the track typically averages 50 deaths per year and there are several months left in the season. If this year is at the average, or higher, at least two dozen more horses will die before the season ends, with each new death creating more controversy.
This weekend, Santa Anita is hosting the Santa Anita Derby, a steppingstone to the prestigious Kentucky Derby in May. There are no plans to cancel any of the races from Thursday to Sunday, according to spokesman Mike Willman. About 2,500 horses have worked out without incident since March 14, when the 22nd horse was euthanized, he said.
“Obviously, what happened Sunday is tragic,” Willman said. “And we don’t mean to minimize the very real problems that we’ve experienced since opening day, but we’re very, very confident both the main track and the turf are in prime condition.”
Surface experts have probed Santa Anita’s main track for signs of inconsistency and have cleared it as safe multiple times. Heavy rains in the first two months of the year were suspected of contributing to the deaths. However, investigators have yet to determine a cause for the deaths and some experts believe its unlikely there will ever be one clear-cut answer.
Still, the racetrack’s owners, The Stronach Group, have implemented sweeping changes as a result of the deaths, including limitations on medications, whips and the number of horses on the track at any given time. There’s growing concern that if Santa Anita can’t stop the rising death toll, it could spell disaster for the industry in California.
Last week, the CHRB instituted a statewide rule limiting whips to emergency situations. Board members acknowledged whips likely did not contribute to the deaths, but made the changes anyway in an effort to manage the public’s perception of the sport.
Baffert concerned about bad publicity
“I’m concerned about the publicity we’ve been getting,” said Bob Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer, in an interview in the New York Times. “This is our March Madness. But we’re having the wrong kind of madness. We feel like we’re all under the gun. We should be under the gun. You can’t defend a horse getting hurt.”
Several groups, including the Jockey Club, have pushed for reforms in the aftermath of the deaths at Santa Anita. The Jockey Club is backing legislation in Congress that would create an independent anti-doping authority to develop and administer nationwide programs for horse racing. The national thoroughbred racing organization published a paper, titled “Vision 2025, To Prosper, Horse Racing Needs Comprehensive Reforms,” in late March.
“This isn’t about a single track — horse fatalities are a nationwide problem, one that has shocked the fans, the industry, the regulators and the general public,” the paper reads. The Jockey Club wants a central rule-making authority, uniformity between different jurisdictions, more transparency and drug testing, and stricter reporting of injuries sustained by horses, among other reforms.
Source: Pasadena Star News
The Jockey Club released a new white paper calling for much-needed reforms to the horse racing industry, including the support of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019. Below are highlighted excerpts. Click here to read the full paper.
Since its founding 125 years ago, The Jockey Club has been dedicated to the improvement of breeding and racing of Thoroughbreds, focusing on improvements to the integrity, health, and safety of the Thoroughbred breed and the sport of horse racing. The Jockey Club has long held that horses must only race when they are free from the effects of medication.
We believe that horse racing needs to aggressively pursue a series of changes to how it is regulated. Without these reforms, the future of the sport will continue to wane. A number of critical reforms to address the health of horses and the integrity of competition are included in this paper – each of which deserves public attention and immediate consideration, especially as they relate to the issue of drug use. Improper drug use can directly lead to horse injuries and deaths. Horses aren’t human and the only way they can tell us if something is wrong is by reacting to a symptom. If that symptom is masked, the results can be devastating.
Following the deaths of 22 Thoroughbreds at Santa Anita Park over the past three months, the horse racing industry in the United States has been forced to reevaluate the measures we currently have in place to protect our horses and maintain high standards of integrity in the sport. The industry has rallied behind laudable reforms to protect our horses, including greater analysis of track surfaces, and The Stronach Group issued a series of new rules at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields pertaining to issues such as transparency in vet records, improved out-of-competition testing, crop use, and a landmark reduction in medications administered to horses.
In the United States there are 38 states that have authorized horse racing, each maintaining its own set of regulations. Relying upon a system of individual state-based regulations and rules denies the industry the ability to affect dynamic and effective change.
However, it would be a mistake to view the Santa Anita fatalities as an isolated situation — spikes in the deaths of horses have occurred at other tracks and they will continue to occur without significant reforms to the horse racing industry. The issue isn’t about a single track — horse fatalities are a nationwide problem, one that has shocked the fans, the industry, the regulators, and the general public.
Will we ever know the exact cause of spikes in horse fatalities? Unless there is change in the industry that answer is, sadly, probably not. A key to this change is the requirement of full transparency into the medical treatment, injuries, and health of all racehorses. Today, we can’t fully see what is going on with a horse because of differing state and track practices, antiquated practices, and purposeful deceit about what drugs are given to horses at what times.
To address these grave issues, The Jockey Club supports the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, or H.R. 1754. The bill would create a private, independent horse racing anti-doping authority (HADA) responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program for horse racing. The authority would be under the oversight of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the organization entrusted by the United States for drug testing of its Olympic athletes. Horse racing would operate under a single set of anti-doping and medication rules across the country, a system that the racing industry has never been able to replicate on its own.
H.R. 1754 is the only way for horse racing to have a national rule book, effectively police itself and stay ahead of cheaters. If the industry wants to remain sustainable for the future, it must take the appropriate actions to protect the horses and the integrity of the game. The appropriate action is to support the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act.
The Bottom Line
The time has come for a new regulatory paradigm for horse racing in the United States. One that is based upon a renewed commitment to the horse and unyielding integrity in the system, from the breeding shed right through to retirement. The reforms outlined in this paper and those embodied in the Horse Racing Integrity Act are critical to ending unsafe practices and would bring the U.S. horse racing industry up to accredited international standards that have led to dramatically fewer breakdowns and horse fatalities in other countries.
Reforming the U.S. racing industry has been supported by some of the most prominent and powerful groups in the sport, including the New York Racing Association, Keeneland Association, The Stronach Group, Breeders’ Cup, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. Associations and organizations that support the Horseracing Integrity Act represent 59% of all pari-mutuel handle generated and 63% of all graded races run for Thoroughbreds in North America in 2017.
In addition, according to a poll conducted by Paulick Report, one of the largest online news sources in horse racing, more than 70% of respondents support the bill. Opponents may not want to admit it, but the majority of those involved in horse racing know that the current system is not working, and that it is time for meaningful change.
More than ever, horse racing is under the microscope by animal welfare groups, the media, and the public. The racing industry must show that the health of its equine athletes is a paramount concern. How can the industry make this pledge? A meaningful start would be to support the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 and to embrace the reforms highlighted here.