LOS ANGELES (CNS) - One day after Gov. Gavin Newsom called for horses to be medically cleared before they are allowed to race, the owners of Santa Anita racetrack said today a “safety review team” will evaluate all horses prior to the remaining races at the track.
According to The Stronach Group, if even one of the five members of the team questions the fitness of a horse, the horse will not be permitted to race. The plan was developed and announced in conjunction with the California Horse Racing Board.
“This is unprecedented in American horse racing,” according to a statement from Alexis Podesta, secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency that oversees the CHRB. “Never have we had this additional layer of review with a team of experts to connect data points and confer on the well-being and capability of individual race horses.”
Santa Anita has been under increasing pressure to cease operations in response to the deaths of 29 horses since Dec. 26. The track was shuttered for most of March while an investigation was conducted into the racing surface. The most recent death occurred Sunday, when 3-year-old filly Trufflino suffered an apparent heart attack.
There are six days of racing left in the current meet at Santa Anita, with races set on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the next two weekends.
According to The Stronach Group, the five-member review team of veterinarians and stewards will be led by CHRB Equine Medical Director Rick Arthur and Chief Steward Darrel McHargue.
The team “will utilize a new, comprehensive evaluation rubric to determine if each horse is at elevated risk of injury before racing,” according to the track owners. “These criteria will include any history on the Veterinarian's List and Steward's List as well as any medical history, race history and physical observations of the horse.”
Belinda Stronach, president/chairwoman of The Stronach Group, said, “Horse and rider safety is our top priority at Santa Anita Park, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to making California horse racing the safest and best in the world. We look forward to working with Governor Newsom and the California Horse Racing Board as they implement this additional layer of review through the end of our current meet.”
Newsom issued a statement late Tuesday calling on the CHRB “to ensure that no horse races until they are examined by independent veterinarians and found fit to compete.”
“As Santa Anita prepares to host the 2019 Breeders' Cup in November, we must show the horse racing world that California puts safety first,” he said.
In early April, Santa Anita officials announced a series of measures to help bolster the safety of horses at the track, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get permission in advance before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
Kathy Guillermo, vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, reiterated the group's call for a halt to horse racing in the state pending the results of a District Attorney's Office investigation into the horse deaths.
“But PETA agrees that there's a need for independent veterinarians who are not part of the `drug `em and race `em' culture of private veterinarians and trainers at many tracks,” she said. “In addition to performing physical exams, they must review all veterinary and workout records and analyze CT scans as soon as that technology is in place. Horses who need time to recover should not be racing, and trainers who insist on putting vulnerable horses on the track should lose their licenses.”
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