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
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.
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