Santa Anita to implement new health and safety protocols

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 9, 2019

Santa Anita Park will implement several additional safety and welfare measures when live racing resumes after an examination of its main track.

Racing was suspended in the wake of series of a catastrophic injuries during racing and training. Horses are currently allowed to gallop on the training track. The targeted re-opening date for racing has been reported as late March.

“We’re looking forward to returning to normal, but it will be a new normal,” Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer of The Stronach Group, which owns the California track, said in a March 8 release. “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 said it will require trainers to apply for permission to work a horse at least 24 hours in advance to allow track veterinarians to assist in identifying at-risk horses through the evaluation of past performances, workout data and physical inspection. Santa Anita hired additional veterinarians to observe all horses entering and exiting the tracks each morning during training hours.

Santa Anita had previously announced a change to the morning training schedule to ensure a more orderly and safe process. The first 15 minutes of training after the main track opens, and after each renovation break, are now exclusively reserved for horses working for an officially clocked time. The objective, officials said, is have less traffic on the track and provide a safer environment for workouts.

TSG also plans to hire an accredited vet to fill the new position of Director of Equine Welfare. The individual will oversee all aspects of equine health and welfare and head a new “rapid response” team for injuries; the team will be charged with conducting “transparent investigations” into all into all injury factors and communicating the findings to the public, the release said.

TSG also owns Gulfstream Park in Florida, which has a house rule it says requires “complete transparency with regard to veterinary records.” Santa Anita will adopt the house rule, which requires such records to stay with a horse through any change in ownership.

“This has worked very well at Gulfstream Park,” Ritvo said. “There was some push-back 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.”

As for the dirt surface, which has been subject to an unusual Southern California weather pattern this winter, Dr. Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky and former Santa Anita trackman Dennis Moore have been on site overseeing the evaluation and will continue to do so, Santa Anita officials said.

Ritvo also said the company will look into “new technology or equipment that will assist in increasing our ability to discover pre-existing injuries.” Officials who analyze catastrophic injuries and help analyze the Equine Injury Database have identified pre-existing conditions as one of the causes.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association March 9 weighed in on the new protocols at Santa Anita, which holds accreditation from the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. The organization usually issues an updated code of standards each year.

“The enhanced safety measures and protocols being undertaken by Santa Anita are among the most progressive in all of horse racing,” NTRA President Alex Waldrop said. “We applaud track officials for taking these important steps which will lead to a safer racing environment for humans and equines.”

(Santa Anita Park photo courtesy of Santa Anita/Benoit Photos)