Santa Anita Set to Resume Racing Friday After California Board Passes Landmark Safety Reforms

Posted on: March 29, 2019, 04:15h. 

Last updated on: March 29, 2019, 06:26h.

Horse racing will return to Santa Anita Park on Friday, a day after a California state committee approved an agreement between the track and thoroughbred owners.

Santa Anita will resume racing on Friday after the California Horse Racing Board passed reforms on the use of race day medications and the jockey’s crop. More than 20 horses have died at the track since the current meet began in December. (Image:

As part of the approval, California Horse Racing Board also signed off on an overhaul of medication guidelines that will eventually end the practice of medicating horses on race days at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, both of which are owned by The Stronach Group.

The board delayed a decision to expand the ban to other tracks in the state at least until next month’s meeting.

Santa Anita officials announced on March 5 it would close the track indefinitely due to a large number of fatalities that occurred since the current meet began in late December. Before suspending the meet, 21 horses died.

A filly died during a training session two weeks ago. Then last weekend, Kentucky Derby contender Gunmetal Gray suffered a fractured leg. That will keep him out of the May 4 race.

Track Inspected Thoroughly

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for The Stronach Group, told the racing board on Thursday that since the meet opened, the track has endured highly unusual weather. Nearly 12 inches of rain fell during January and February, compared to an inch over the same timeframe in 2018. In addition, colder than average temperatures have been experienced.

Before reopening the track for training, Santa Anita officials brought in consultants to peel back the surface for a comprehensive inspection. Experts also examined the records of the horses that died during racing.

“Experts were telling us these were multi-factorial injuries,” Ritvo said,

After the filly died on March 14, Ritvo said that became the impetus for drastic changes to race day procedures. Ultimately, TSG and the Thoroughbred Owners of California reached an agreement in establishing new racing guidelines at Stronach tracks.

When racing resumes on Friday, Lasix will be the only medication horses can receive on race days. In addition, the maximum dosage of the anti-bleeding medication will be cut in half. Finally, for horses born in 2018 and after, they will not be able to receive any race day medications.

Changes didn’t stop there.

“It is our hope that the use of the riding crop will be subject to the strictest rules of any jurisdiction in the world,” Ritvo said.

After Ritvo’s remarks, the CHRB passed banning the crop’s use as a whip to make the horse go faster. Jockeys will be able to use the crop as a corrective device to protect the horse or rider from danger.

However, before it goes into effect, it must go through a 45-day public comment period.

Some Still Concerned About Track

Even after Santa Anita announced its historic changes to enhance equine safety on March 16, some wondered whether the track would still be safe for racing.

After Gunmetal Gray suffered his injury, Fred Cowgill, sports director at WLKY-TV in Louisville expressed his reservations about the surface. If race-day medications are a problem, then why are horses breaking down during training sessions, he asked.

That does not account for the highly unusual weather, said Cowgill, who has covered racing for more than three decades.

If (Santa Anita) really embraces the safety of the sport and the animals, it would not open on Friday,” said Cowgill, who gave his comments in casting his ballot for Horse Racing Nation’s weekly Kentucky Derby media poll. “It would solve the clearly structural issues of the track, and if I were an owner or trainer, especially with a Derby contender, I’d stay away.”

The closure did prevent Santa Anita from running one Kentucky Derby prep race, the March 9 San Felipe Stakes. However, the Santa Anita Derby is still scheduled for April 6. The winner of that race will receive 100 qualifying points for the Run for the Roses.