While a thorough investigation and analysis of the Santa Anita main track continues, representatives of The Stronach Group (TSG) have announced that several new safety and welfare initiatives will be put into place whenever racing resumes at the Arcadia, California, oval.
“We’re looking forward to returning to normal, but it will be a new normal,” said Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer, TSG. “The safety of our equine and human athletes remains our highest priority. We need to work together and continue to create not only our own internal audits, but an open and honest dialogue with all of the stakeholders and evaluate best practices at other racetracks around the world.”
Santa Anita will require all trainers to provide 24-hour advance notice to track officials if they intend to breeze a horse, a move designed to allow track veterinarians to assist in identifying possible ‘at-risk’ horses through the evaluation of past performances, workout data and a physical inspection. Additional vets have been hired by Santa Anita to observe all horses entering and exiting the track each morning.
A previously announced change will see the first 15 minutes of training following the opening of the main track reserved exclusively for horses working for an official clocking. According to the track, the decrease in traffic will provide an overall safer environment.
The Stronach Group will for the first time employ a Director of Equine Welfare, a position that will be held by an accredited veterinarian. This individual will be tasked with oversight of all aspects of equine well-being and will front a new ‘Rapid Response’ team for injuries. This group will be responsible for conducting transparent investigations of all factors involving the injury, as well the communication of their findings to the racing and general public.
Santa Anita will also introduce a ‘House Rule’ that will require total transparency with regards to veterinary records. This will mandate that all vet records for a given horse follow that horse through any trainer or ownership change, including a claim or a private sale. A similar rule has worked well at TSG’s Gulfstream Park.
“This has worked very well at Gulfstream Park,” said Ritvo. “There was some pushback from the trainers at first, but this is the best thing for the horse. Now, everyone has bought into the process as they realize they are also on the receiving end of this information intended to understand the full medical history of that horse.”
TSG reiterated its commitment to work with the California Horse Racing Board and other industry stakeholders in evaluating racetrack safety, with a goal of establishing a “culture of health and safety throughout all of the racetracks, creating checks and balances, intervention strategies and working together to identify factors to help mitigate risk to horses and riders.” TSG will continue to engage Dr. Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky, veteran trackman Dennis Moore and other independent experts to continually review the racing surface.
“Every one of us, from our Chairman and President (TSG) Belinda Stronach, to our employees, to every trainer and owner and person who works in the stable area, we all have deep, deep love for horses,” said Ritvo. “It’s why we get up every day. It’s all about the horses. Human medicine is more advanced than equine medicine, so if there is new technology or equipment that will assist in increasing the ability to discover our pre-existing injuries, we’re going to invest in that technology and bring it to our horsemen.”