California regulators and the owners of Santa Anita Park announced on Wednesday that a team of medical and racing officials would put thoroughbreds at the track under increased scrutiny to ensure that unsound horses are not allowed to race in the final days of Santa Anita’s meet.
The creation of this horse safety review team came in response to criticism from Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who on Tuesday asked for a moratorium on racing at Santa Anita Park until horses there are evaluated by independent veterinarians. On Sunday the thoroughbred death toll, in both races and training, at the track reached 29 since the start of the current meet on Dec. 26.
The governor’s statement came just days after the California Horse Racing Board asked the park’s owners to shut it down and forgo the remaining days of its meet, which ends on June 23.
But neither the Southern California racetrack nor the state associations for horse owners and trainers were willing to abandon the remaining dates at Santa Anita.
A five-member review panel will determine if each horse is at elevated risk of injury before a race by considering its medical and racing history and making physical observations of the horse. The team must unanimously agree that a horse is fit to race.
The review team will be in place for the final six racing days at Santa Anita. The safety team includes independent veterinarians and stewards.
“Never have we had this additional layer of review with a team of experts to connect data points and confer on the well-being and capability of individual race horses,” said Alexis Podesta, the secretary of the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which oversees the racing board. “Furthermore, recommendations coming from this team will be the final word as to whether or not a horse races.”
In November, Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup, one of horse racing’s most prestigious annual events. The deaths there have increased scrutiny on not only the park but also the sport nationwide.
Nearly 10 horses a week on average died at American racetracks in 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. That rate is two and a half to five times greater than that of the rest of the horse racing world.