Effective immediately, in response to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s direction, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), working closely with The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita Park, will implement enhanced safety measures and reviews to further protect horses at the track, the groups announced June 12.
Since the Arcadia, California, track’s current race meet opened on Dec. 26, 2018, 29 horses have died or been euthanized due to injuries sustained during racing or training.
Led by CHRB Equine Medical Director Rick Arthur, DVM, and Chief Steward Darrel McHargue, a five-member team will provide additional review of horses’ medical, training, and racing history. This team consists of independent CHRB veterinarians and stewards who hold authority to scratch horses that do not appear fit to run.
Specifically, the horse safety review team will utilize a new comprehensive evaluation rubric to determine if each individual horse is at elevated risk of injury before racing. 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.
Under the new protocols, every member of the review team must agree that the horse is not at elevated risk of injury in order to clear a horse to race. One dissenting member of the review team can prevent a horse from racing. The Stronach Group management has agreed to then instruct the racing secretary, who is currently responsible for deciding if a horse is fit to race, to deny the entry of any such horse and treat the review team’s recommendation as the final word.
“These are historic safety enhancements,” said CHRB Executive Director Rick Baedeker. “We are taking these additional steps to further mitigate the risk to horses at Santa Anita. The California Horse Racing Board is committed to doing all we can to ensure the safety of the horses there.”
The Stronach Group President and Chairwoman Belinda Stronach, added, “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.”
Alexis Podesta, secretary of the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency, which oversees CHRB, said, “This is unprecedented in American horse racing,” said “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 racehorses. Furthermore, recommendations coming from this team will be the final word as to whether or not a horse races. I expect the industry as a whole will embrace this effort.”
The review team will be in place for the final six racing days at Santa Anita.