The California Horse Racing Board, in conjunction with The Stronach Group, says it will implement “enhanced safety measures and reviews to further protect horses at Santa Anita,” according to a release Wednesday. The move comes in response to a call from California Governor Gavin Newsom Tuesday to halt racing at the Arcadia oval after two more horses died over the weekend to bring the total number of fatalities to 29 since the meet began Dec. 26.
Led by CHRB Equine Medical Director Dr. Rick Arthur, DVM, and Chief Steward Darrel McHargue, the CHRB will convene a five-member team to conduct additional reviews of horses’ medical, training and racing histories prior to clearing them to race. The release said the team will consist of independent CHRB veterinarians and stewards who will be given the authority to scratch horses that “do not appear fit to run.”
“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.”
“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,” according to the release. “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 protocol, every member of the review team must agree that a horse is not at elevated risk of injury in order to clear the horse to race. One dissenting member of the team can elicit a scratch.
“This is unprecedented in American horse racing,” said Alexis Podesta, Secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which oversees 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 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.”
“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,” added TSG President and Chairwoman Belinda Stronach. “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.”
The review team will be in place for the final six days of the Santa Anita meet, which is scheduled to conclude June 23.