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Santa Anita and CHRB unveil enhanced safety measures to combat horse deaths

Santa Anita and CHRB unveil enhanced safety measures to combat horse deaths
A horse trains at Santa Anita in March. Twenty-nine horses have died at Santa Anita this racing season. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The California Horse Racing Board and Santa Anita, at odds over the weekend because of the CHRB’s desire to immediately suspend racing at the track, announced enhanced protocols designed to keep unsound horses from running.

A panel of five, including Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director of the CHRB, and Darrel McHargue, CHRB chief steward, will review the medical, training and racing history of each horse before it can run.

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While there is no way to accurately predict when a horse will break down, this move should catch more horses that are at risk. If effective, it would lead to lead to smaller field sizes, which has an effect on mutuel handle, the financial engine that runs race tracks.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, Santa Anita’s owner, said his top priority when he came to the track two years ago was to increase field size. The track has backed off that stand as Belinda Stronach, chief executive, has made horse and rider safety the top priority.

The moves are being made in wake of 29 equine deaths since the track’s winter-spring meeting opened Dec. 26.

The CHRB asked Santa Anita to shut down racing over the weekend. The meeting has only six race dates left, but the track refused. The CHRB has authority to close a track or change race dates but only after a 10-day public notice period and other regulatory hurdles. That’s why the CHRB made a request rather than a mandate.

“We are taking these additional steps to further mitigate the risk to horses at Santa Anita,” said Rick Baedeker, executive director of the CHRB.

Additional questions about the how the process would work and what the measures say about the current state of enforcement were not immediately answered by Santa Anita, the CHRB or the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which oversees the CHRB.

The initiative was said to be in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request on Tuesday that the CHRB “ensure that no horse races until they are examined by independent veterinarians and found fit to compete.” The statement called for action that was already being taken by the CHRB and racetracks, leading to confusion.

The measures are supposed to be effective immediately. Racing resumes at Santa Anita on Friday.

Even though Santa Anita closes for racing on June 23, horses will be training over the track until July 11, when the Del Mar racing surface opens for use.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called for the immediate passage of Senate Bill 469, a state measure that would give the CHRB authority to make changes to a racing license and race days almost immediately. The bill passed the state Senate unanimously and is awaiting action in the Assembly.

“SB 469 is a sensible step to make the horse racing industry safer and more accountable, and I encourage you to pass the bill expeditiously,” Feinstein said.

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