CYPRESS (CNS) - The California Horse Racing Board today unanimously signed off on a plan that addresses a cluster of equine deaths at the Los Alamitos Race Course by adding several layers of oversight.
The plan was implemented at Los Alamitos following the board's July 10 decision to put the track on notice that a plan needed to be presented or racing would be suspended.
At that time, at least 19 horses had died since the beginning of the year after suffering racing or training injuries, and another 10 had succumbed to gastrointestinal and other types of illnesses. In the following two days, two more horses were fatally injured at the track, bringing the total for the year to 21.
The new plan includes adding another veterinarian to be a “roving observer of horses in training, while entering, exiting, or on the track,'' as well as a “security steward'' who oversees veterinary and barn practices.
The new plan also includes an “entry review panel'' of experts who have the authority to scratch horses for races.
Any death at the track will trigger a review.
“I can assure you we're all kind of humiliated by this whole thing,'' Los Alamitos Race Course owner Dr. Ed Allred told the board. “We're going to do all that we can, everything we possibly can, to do things properly in the future. Some of our trainers are upset, but they will adjust to it.''
Commissioner Dennis Alfieri replied that if trainers were disgruntled, “You know what, too bad. There are a lot of trainers who call themselves -- quote, unquote -- trainers and they're not trainers. They have one or two horses and they bring them in. That has always made me uneasy about this whole industry -- people who call themselves trainers who shouldn't be trainers... If these trainers don't want to step up to the plate and raise their own bar, they should be out.''
Commissioner Wendy Mitchell said, “What we're doing as a commission is sending a message to the trainers and jockeys... We want to give the track at Los Alamitos the backbone and knowing they have our support to crack down.''
Dr. Rebecca Fitzgerald, the veterinarian on staff at the track, said the plan, which was put in place last week, has already shown results.
“I have personally seen an improvement based on the new system that we're implementing, more so than I expected to see,'' Fitzgerald told the commissioners.
She said the plan was “instrumental'' in taking a couple of horses out of races.
“We had a really great calendar year last year... and adding what we have is no doubt going to make a great difference,'' Fitzgerald said.
“I agree with Dr. Allred,'' Fitzgerald said. “It is a big of an embarrassment... I pride myself on our numbers and they have been really great and then recently what happened, you just can't have, so whatever we have to do to get them back to how they were last year is really what we have to do and I think this plan will help us get there.''
Commissioner Alex Solis said he wished the plan was in place when he was a jockey.
“I wish we had this kind of plan when I was riding. I would still be riding,'' Solis said.
At the July 10 meeting, board Chairman Gregory L. Ferraro said, “I think there is a culture there with the veterinarians and trainers pushing the envelope.''
The board's veterinarian, Dr. Rick Arthur, said he thinks Los Alamitos is fine and is not the issue, but added, “What I do see that is questionable is training and horse practices... veterinary practices... multiple and repeated injections often without diagnostic procedures.''
Three of the four horses that died would not have been eligible to race under the new protocols, according to Arthur, who said he was “encouraged'' by Allred's plan.
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