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California Horse Racing Board meeting to discuss Santa Anita postponed

ARCADIA, CALIF. - APRIL 06: The starting gate is moved after a race at Santa Anita Park on Saturday,
Twenty-three horses have died at Santa Anita since the start of the track’s winter/spring meet on Dec. 26.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The California Horse Racing Board postponed Friday’s scheduled meeting to discuss its ability to reassign racing dates should Santa Anita elect to suspend racing in the future. The meeting was rescheduled for Thursday, April 18. No explanation was given for the postponement, although the added time gives affected parties more time to come to an agreement.

The CHRB, as a regulatory body, does not have the ability to make change like a league office or commissioner’s office. It has to follow state procedures that often slow processes significantly. It’s not unusual for issues between stakeholders to be decided before the meeting, making the public comment more perfunctory than persuasive. CHRB chairman Chuck Winner was at Santa Anita over the weekend.

Santa Anita is in the midst of a rash of horse deaths — 23 since Dec. 26. However, as public pressure on the horse racing industry has grown, the track’s safety record has improved. There has been one fatality over the last 25 training days and seven racing days.

When racing resumes Friday, it will feature an experiment by the Jockeys’ Guild, which plans to not have jockeys carry a riding crop, or whip. The CHRB unanimously passed a first reading on a rule that would eliminate the use of the crop, except in the case involving the rider or horse’s safety. The Guild is opposed to this rule and wants to show the public what a world without riding crops would be like. One factor that will be looked at is whether the mutuel handle is affected, which would indicate the betting public’s acceptance of the change.

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The change was put forward by Belinda Stronach, president and chief executive of The Stronach Group, as a way to show the public that horse racing is enacting changes. There is no direct link between the use of a riding crop and any of the breakdowns, however, the optics of a jockey hitting a horse remain poor. Jockeys says the riding crop is mostly a noise maker to focus the horse and does not hurt the animal.

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