California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Wednesday helping pave the way for suspending horse racing at Santa Anita Park, the California race track where 30 horses have died since the season opened six months ago.
The bill gives the California Horse Racing Board the authority to suspend a race meet license when it’s necessary to protect the health and safety of horses or riders at the track. Though the rise in deaths at the track has sparked national outrage for months, previous regulations allowed a track’s operator to dismiss the racing board’s requests.
“Business as usual has resulted in too many horse deaths,” the Democratic governor said in a statement Wednesday about the bill, which was authored by state Sen. Bill Dodd (D).
The 30th of those horses was euthanized this past weekend after suffering a left leg injury while exercising on the training track. It was the fourth horse to die this season under the care of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who’s since been suspended from the track.
“I applaud the Legislature for taking action to expand the authority of the CHRB to cancel or move race meets when animal and human safety are at risk,” Newsom added. “This problem demands deeper partnership between the CHRB and track officials.”
Among other efforts to increase horse safety precautions, Newsom appointed Gregory Ferraro, the former director of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine Center for Equine Health, to the CHRB. Ferraro will be the only person with a veterinary background on the board; its other members are largely horse racing aficionados, former jockeys and real estate developers.
Newsom’s signature may not have an immediate effect on the track, as the racing season ended on Sunday and isn’t slated to start back up again until December. But when asked if or when the CHRB plans to act on its new allowances, spokesman Mike Marten said the “chairman will determine when and if it becomes necessary to call an emergency meeting of the Board for this purpose.”
A spokesman for Santa Anita Park said he did not have a comment at this time.
Though the numbers at Santa Anita have been particularly alarming, the rate of racing horse deaths across the U.S. has long been an issue. In 2018, American race tracks averaged nearly 10 horse deaths a week, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. That ranges from two and a half to five times greater than the fatality rate in Europe and Asia, where the use of performance-enhancing drugs on horses is more strictly monitored, The New York Times reported.