Amid Breakdown Epidemic, Santa Anita to Ban Raceday Medicati…

Amid Breakdown Epidemic, Santa Anita to Ban Raceday Medicati…

Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 4:33 pm |
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Updated: March 14, 2019 at 5:10 pm

Santa Anita | Horsephotos

Off the heels of Thursday morning’s 22nd reported equine fatality at Santa Anita since its current meet opened, The Stronach Group has moved to ban raceday medication, including Lasix, at the Arcadia oval as well as its Northern California track Golden Gate Fields. The Stronach Group’s Chairman and President Belinda Stronach penned a lengthy open letter announcing the drastic shift in policy, which coincided with a brief press conference given by chief operating officer Tim Ritvo at Santa Anita.

“What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking,” Stronach said. “It is unacceptable to the public and, as people who deeply love horses, to everyone at The Stronach Group and Santa Anita. The sport of horse racing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernized. If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards. Today, I’m announcing The Stronach Group will take the unprecedented step of declaring a zero tolerance for race day medication at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. These Thoroughbred racetracks will be the first in North America to follow the strict International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) standards.”

Standing on the grandstand apron on live television, Ritvo read from a brief prepared statement, saying, “Any change is hard, but the love of the horse supercedes all else. We know firsthand that owners, trainers and jockeys love and care deeply for their horses. We love the horses too and we’re making these changes to put the health and welfare of the horse and rider first. We are looking forward to working closely with the industry partners as these changes are implemented. It is important that everyone review these comprehensive changes. We will be answering follow questions at a later date.”

Describing this as a “watershed moment,” Stronach announced that, in addition to banning Lasix, the new policy will increase the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDs, joint injections, shockwave therapy and anabolic steroids. It also calls for complete transparency of all veterinary records, increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race and “a substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.”

Stronach also brought up the issue of whip usage in her statement, saying, “Additionally, it is time to address the growing concern about use of the riding crop. A cushion crop should only be used as a corrective safety measure. While we firmly believe our jockeys have not purposely been mistreating their mounts, it is time to make this change.”

She continued, “We will be continuing our daily conversations with industry stakeholders to further define these transformative guidelines. But make no mistake: these changes will be implemented. The time to discuss ‘why’ these advancements must take place is over. The only thing left to discuss is ‘how.’ There are some who will take a stand and tell us that it cannot be done. To them, we say, ‘The health and welfare of the horses will always come first.’ We also say, ‘not only can it be done, it is what we are doing.’ Racing at Santa Anita and Golden Gate is a privilege, it is not a right.”

“This is a tipping point and I hope we see more racing companies take such powerful steps,” said Jim Gagliano, president and chief operating officer of The Jockey Club. “Now, more than ever, we need to reform the regulation of the sport such that we will be in step with all other racing nations, where the rate of fatal injury is less than half that of North America. And to those industry leaders that have said the status quo is OK, it is time to come clean and admit that our low standards and uneven rules remain a major weakness for the sport.”

Stronach noted that her company has spoken with the California Horse Racing Board, who will be holding a meeting Mar. 21 at which the situation at Santa Anita will be addressed. She also acknowledged the impact on business the decision will have, but said The Stronach Group is willing to assist horses who may not be able to race without medication.

“We recognize this will impact our field size as horses and horsemen adjust to this new standard,” she wrote. “There will be horses that will not be able to race because they have required medication to do so. For those horses, we are prepared to dedicate the capital required to rehabilitate, retrain, rehome and provide aftercare for them. They deserve nothing less.”

Trainer Richard Mandella said that he doesn’t think the new changes will affect the way he runs his operation. “I’m fine. I don’t have a problem,” he told TDN. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to set the world right.”

While he said he’s not sure the changes will, on their own, reduce fatality rates at the track, Mandella added that he thought it’s the right move in terms of optics. “The attempt is for the good, but whether it works or not, time will tell. I wouldn’t want someone to take Lasix away from me and not somebody else, but if it’s all gone, so be it. We’ll live. Whatever the rules are, I’ll do the best I can.”

Concluding, Stronach said, “We are taking a step forward and saying, quite emphatically, that the current system is broken. While the cause of the injuries on the racetrack might be varied, they have one thing in common: the industry has yet to do everything that can be done to prevent them. That changes today. First and foremost, we must do right by the horse. When we do right by the horse, everything–everything–will follow.”

Click here to read Stronach’s full letter. This story will continue to be updated with reaction from horsemen.

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