The Santa Anita Park racetrack reached an agreement with the California Horse Racing Board on Wednesday, pledging to immediately implement upgraded safety measures amid the ongoing furor over a spate of horse deaths at the popular sporting venue.
Under the new guidelines, a team of five people will conduct an additional review of horses’ “medical, training and racing history” and be given the authority to scratch animals that aren’t deemed fit to compete.
“Specifically, the horse safety review team will utilize a new, comprehensive evaluation rubric to determine if each individual horse is at elevated risk of injury before racing,” a press release announcing the new regulations stated. “Importantly, under the new protocols, every member of the review team must agree that the horse is not at elevated risk of injury in order to clear a horse to race. One dissenting member of the review team can prevent a horse from racing.”
The move comes amid national outrage over the deaths at Santa Anita Park. To date, 29 horses have died since its season began in December. There are still six race days left in the season. But the track in Los Angeles County has resisted calls to suspend its activities for the remainder of the season, even after the CHRB urged the venue to close last week until officials could determine exactly why so many horses have died.
The CHRB does not currently have the authority to suspend a race or remove race dates, but a bill working its way through the California Legislature could change that in the coming months. Santa Anita closed for a short time in March to investigate the string of deaths and eventually said it would ban the use of drugs and whips on race days. At the time, however, officials weren’t able to discover anything wrong at the venue itself that could contribute to the deaths.
This week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) both issued urgent calls for the track to suspend operations once more.
“I continue to be troubled by the horse deaths at Santa Anita Park,” Newsom said in a statement Tuesday. “Enough is enough. I am calling on the California Horse Racing Board to ensure that no horse races until they are examined by independent veterinarians and found fit to compete.”
Officials at both the CHRB and the Stronach Group, which own Santa Anita Park, championed the increased safety measures as a historic new standard for horse racing.
“Horse and rider safety is our top priority at Santa Anita Park, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to making California horse racing the safest and best in the world,” Belinda Stronach, the president of the Stronach Group, said in a statement Wednesday. “We look forward to working with Governor Newsom and the California Horse Racing Board as they implement this additional layer of review through the end of our current meet.”
The new measures should take effect immediately and be in use when racing resumes at the track Friday. The venue is still scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup in November.