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
A stunning rash of horse fatalities could be breathing life into efforts to reform thoroughbred racing.
Nine days after Santa Anita was shut down following almost two dozen race-related deaths, Kentucky Republican Andy Barr and New York Democrat Paul Tonko reintroduced legislation Thursday that would establish uniform national medication standards, including the elimination of race-day Lasix.
Later Thursday, the Stronach Group, announced its unilateral decision to ban Lasix at its California tracks: Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, to further restrict certain forms of therapy and anabolic steroids, to increase out-of-competition testing and to provide transparency on all veterinary records.
"We will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes," Belinda Stronach wrote in an open letter. "Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognize just how disruptive this might be."
The Horse Racing Integrity Act has failed to gain traction in three previous attempts since 2011, but advocates are hopeful the political calculus is changing amid the fallout from a recent rash of horse fatalities at Santa Anita.
Barr said the timing of the bill’s introduction was coincidental, but it occurred on the same day Santa Anita experienced its 22nd fatality since Dec. 26, a Thursday morning accident when Princess Lili B broke both front legs at the end of a half-mile workout.
“What’s happened out there at Santa Anita, it scares me,” said breeder Arthur Hancock, owner of Stone Farm in Paris, Kentucky. “It’s a crisis. ... I hope it has softened some of the objections from some people.”
“It’s not an issue only in California,” Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed nationally.”
Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, says the state’s rate of race-related fatalities was “unprecedented” in 2018 at 2.39 per 1,000 starts. Veterinarians reports show Churchill Downs’ rate was higher still last year, with 16 race-related fatalities translating as 2.73 per 1,000 starts.
Horse Racing Fatalities in Kentucky
This list shows race related fatalities in Kentucky. This does not reflect training incidents.
Scollay says the causes for the spike are "multifactorial," but Hancock suspects painkillers cause hurt horses to continue competing at greater risk of catastrophic injuries. Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of Santa Anita parent The Stronach Group, says perceived pressure on trainers to fill fields with unsound horses is an issue, "We can't run from."
"Everyone knows that this could be them," Ritvo told The Paulick Report. "The Ringling Brothers Circus doesn't exist any more. SeaWorld has had to change. We have to come together and put strong protocols in place. ... There were things that were acceptable when I was an 18-year-old kid that aren't acceptable any more."
Hancock, whose grandfather founded the renowned Claiborne Farm in 1910, says veterinarians, drug companies and Churchill Downs have posed the primary obstacles to meaningful change.
“None of our powerful politicians in the state except for Andy (Barr) support this (bill) and the reason is because of Churchill Downs,” he said. “They’ve been against it for a number of reasons.”
Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery issued a statement Thursday afternoon that stopped short of endorsing the proposed reforms, but indicated a willingness to change by consensus.
“Integrity and maximizing the health and safety of our equine athletes are issues that go right to the core of everything we do at Churchill Downs," Flanery said. "We’re supportive of any improvements for horse racing that have broad support through collaboration with other industry leaders.”
The bill submitted Thursday would ban the use of all medications within 24 hours of a race, develop a standardized list of permitted and prohibited substances, establish a regulatory organization responsible for implementing an anti-doping program and require additional disclosure to breeding stock purchasers and the betting public.
“We think this bill would materially improve the safety of the sport, whether these incidents had happened or not,” Barr said Thursday afternoon. “Obviously, we’re all concerned. Everybody’s concerned about what’s gone on at Santa Anita. ...
“Our bill would make the sport safer. We’re very confident about that.”
Opposition to the bill centers on third-party regulation and restrictions on the use of Lasix, a drug designed to prevent bleeding that also acts as a diuretic. Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association, testified last June that a move to eliminate Lasix would “force owners out of the business.”
“It's going to force, at horse sales that go on in many states throughout the country, a disclaimer that'll have to be put on horses that are sold that they are potential bleeders,” Foreman said, “... that they will not be able to treat that horse for racing, and that horse may not be able to race.
“Can you envision buying an automobile or product, where you're told at the time of the sale, that this product may have a problem and you're not going to be able to fix it in a way that you can use it? Are you going to buy that product?”
Those in favor of the bill, which includes Keeneland, the Breeders’ Cup and the Jockey Club, point to the lower equine fatality rates in countries with stricter drug policies and the inconsistent standards across various states.
“Different groups have raised different issues,” Barr said. “In my view, uniformity is very good for racetracks. The new generation of fans that are tech-savvy, they want uniformity. We need one set of rules for all of those racetracks.”
Source: Courier Journal