After a tumultuous year in which dozens of horses died at the fabled Santa Anita Park, officials put in place a slew of groundbreaking reforms before the start of the 2019 fall meeting: tough new drug restrictions, the addition of four more veterinarians to oversee the horses, new rules on when horses could be trained and when they had to be stabled at the park before a race. Horses were already being blood-tested before races for evidence of “milkshaking”— in which a horse is given the performance enhancing drug sodium bicarbonate through a tube up the nose. Also, horses are randomly drug-tested after races.
It was the surge in deaths over a few weeks at the park earlier this year that raised an alarm at the track and a public outcry that put the park and the sport in general under an extraordinary scrutiny — and rightly so. That alarm led to the reforms now in place.
According to statistics compiled by the Jockey Club, of the roughly 49,000 thoroughbred horses that raced last year, 493 suffered racing fatalities. That doesn’t include training deaths. The average death per start — a start occurs each time a horse begins a race — in the U.S. last year was 1.68 deaths per 1,000 starts. Santa Anita last year was above average with 2.04 deaths per 1,000 starts. But other parks had worse records.
The idea is to institute reforms that bring down fatalities dramatically. Death should not be a regular or acceptable byproduct of horse racing. Santa Anita appears to be working hard on this. In addition to the reforms above, new diagnostic tools — a standing MRI machine and a PET scanner — should be in place by the start of the next racing season at the end of December.
But even more can and should be done. Advocates from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have urged Santa Anita to put in a CT scanner that can take images of all four legs of a horse at once. Park veterinarians say they are working on finding the right one. The more varied diagnostic tools the park has, says Santa Anita’s chief veterinary officer, Dionne Benson, the better they can evaluate the condition of horses before they’re cleared to race.
Santa Anita appears to be working hard on this. In addition to the reforms above, new diagnostic tools — a standing MRI machine and a PET scanner — should be in place by the start of the next racing season at the end of December. But even more can and should be done.
The park should also put in a place a central pharmacy from which all drugs would be obtained. Benson supports this as a way to monitor all the drugs given to horses during the days or weeks that they are at Santa Anita. (The track would enforce this through its on-site investigators and the hundreds of cameras in place.) And the park should seriously consider replacing its dirt track with a synthetic track. The park did this once before and took it out. It can be difficult to maintain but there is evidence that there are fewer fatalities on it. And the park has to continue to police trainers. The park has already banished trainers whose horses have suffered disproportionate fatalities.
Meanwhile, Congress should pass the Horseracing Integrity Act, creating an independent horse-racing authority to set nationwide rules.
The troubling thing is that even experts such as Benson are stumped by what is causing the recent deaths at Santa Anita and elsewhere. It would help if Benson had the necropsies of all the horses. The L.A. district attorney’s office set up a task force to investigate the deaths six months ago and the results are still not public nor does the office have a time frame for when they will be released. Benson says her goal is “safe horse racing with zero fatalities,” but she acknowledges how difficult it will be to get to that.
Hopefully, even more changes at the park will get Santa Anita closer. If it can’t, and if no racing park in the United States can, then the inescapable question for elected officials and the public in California and across the nation is: Do we want to continue a sport — even a historic and beloved sport — in which horses’ lives are routinely sacrificed so that people can be entertained?
Source: Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
A fifth horse has died at Santa Anita this fall, the 35th fatality at the famed Southern California race track since Dec. 26, officials said Friday. Six-year-old mare C Q Covergirl injured both of her front legs while running on the facility's training track Friday and was subsequently euthanized on the recommendation of the attending veterinarian. C Q Covergirl is the third horse to die on the training track in the last month. She had won six of 16 lifetime races and earned around $200,000, before her premature death.
C Q Covergirl was claimed in June for $40,000 by two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, though Philip D'Amato had trained the mare for most of her career. D’Amato also trained Satchel Paige, who died on October 19, and Formal Dude, who died on June 8.
Although there is no rule to suspend trainers following a horse fatality in California, the state's race tracks have seen some changes in the last year. In March, Santa Anita Park declared a zero-tolerance policy for race-day medications, which may harm horses by pushing them beyond their bodies' physical capacities. In the same month, the California Horse Racing Board voted to limit whips in horse racing. Then in June, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing the racing board to immediately suspend racing licenses to protect the safety of horses and riders, as a response to the climbing horse deaths at Santa Anita.
Still, the iconic race track has seen a significant drop in attendance since the ongoing controversy. Santa Anita Park is scheduled to host the world championships of racing, the Breeder's Cup, next weekend, marking the end of its fall season. In the meantime, the body of C Q Covergirl will be sent to the University of California, Davis, for a necropsy, as is protocol.
Both the California Horse Racing Board and the L.A. District Attorney’s Office are conducting investigations into the spike of horse fatalities at Santa Anita.
Source: ABC News
California Gov. Gavin Newsom turned up the heat on horse racing Monday, telling the New York Times that the sport’s “time is up” if it doesn’t make significant reforms in regard to the health of its animals. His declaration arrives as Santa Anita prepares for the opening of its fall season on Friday on the heels of a six-month span that saw 30 horses die at the Los Angeles-area race track.
“What happened last year was unacceptable, and all of the excuses be damned,” Newsom told The Times. “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.”
In June, Newsom signed bill (SB 469) into law, giving the California Horse Racing Board the authority to suspend the horse-racing licenses of tracks following the spate of deaths at Santa Anita.
Triple Crown scandal brings more heat
The Times also reported last month that 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive for banned performance-enhancer scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby that year and should have been disqualified from racing at the Kentucky Derby. A coverup by the California Horse Racing Board chaired by Justify’s owner Chuck Winner allowed the horse to avoid disqualification, according to the report. Winner sold Justify’s breeding rights for $60 million, according to The Times.
Famed trainer’s role in scandal
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s lawyer argued that Justify’s positive test was a result of “environmental contamination” due to the consumption of jimson weed in his feed. Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission from 2011 to 2018, told The Times after looking at records that the amount of scopolamine in Justify’s system — 300 milligrams — indicated doping. “I think it has to come from intentional intervention,” Sams said.
Board exonerated Baffert in horse deaths
The California Horse Racing Board exonerated Baffert in 2013 after seven of his horses died at Inglewood’s Hollywood Park over the course of 16 months. Baffert was found to have administered thyroid hormone thyroxine to his horses despite there being no evidence of hypothyroidism in the the horses that received the treatment. The board acknowledged the use of the drug by Baffert, but determined that he had not broken any rules.
Not just in California
Horse racing is under increased scrutiny nationwide as more attention is being paid to the spate of horse deaths. Belmont Park in New York, home to the third leg of the Triple Crown, drew attention when its death toll for 2019 increased to 25 with three deaths in the first two days of its fall season that started Sept. 6. Since then, five more horses have died at Belmont and four others at different New York tracks, according to the New York State Gaming Commission.
Newsom’s stern warning
Newsom cited the increased awareness of the fatalities that have always plagued the sport as influencing his stance. “The more you realize what’s really going on, the more intolerant you become of certain behaviors,” Newsom said. “If you don’t reform yourself, you’re going to get run over, and others are going to reform for you in ways that you don’t like.”
Source: Yahoo Sports