In Arcadia, California, a place of beauty and history lives. Santa Anita Park has been a bustling center for Thoroughbred horse racing since it opened the doors at its current location in 1934. Below the mountains that make Santa Anita Park so picturesque, horses such as Seabiscuit and Affirmed have made history. More recently, Justify made a stop there on his way to winning the 2018 Triple Crown and Zenyatta became the first female to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park in 2009.
It is important to preserve history for future generations which is why it is crucial that the recent problems that have been surfacing at Santa Anita and because of Santa Anita are fixed.
Twenty-two horses have died at Santa Anita since the winter meet began on Dec. 26th. Although the reasons for these breakdowns have been debated, there are things we know as true. On March 5th, the track closed its doors indefinitely after twenty-one horses suffered fatal injuries over the course of a few months. Five of these injuries occured on the turf track, sixteen occured on the main dirt track. Later that day, expert track consultant Dennis Moore returned to Santa Anita to look over the park’s dirt track.
On March 13th, the track was reopened for training after being declared “safe”. According to BloodHorse, the owners of Santa Anita Park (as well as other racetracks), the Stronach Group, held a meeting that day with representatives from Thoroughbred Owners of California, Del Mar Racetrack, and the California Horse Racing Board to discuss new safety protocols.
On March 14th, a three-year old filly named Lil Princess B broke both of her front legs during a timed workout on the main track and was euthanized. Fox News was in attendance, filming the injury and broadcasting it to audiences that are already sensitive on horse racing. The track held the position that it is safe and is keeping the track open for training.
On the afternoon of March 14th, the Stronach Group released an open letter that detailed what the future of horse racing in California will look like. In this letter, it was announced that Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields will become the first North American racetracks to follow the standards of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA). These standards include:
- Banning the use of Lasix
- Increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.
- Complete transparency of all veterinary records.
- Significantly increasing out-of-competition testing.
- Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race.
- A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
- Horses in training are only allowed therapeutic medication with a qualified veterinary diagnosis.
The letter also announced limitations on the riding crop, only allowing it to be used as a corrective safety measure.
A meeting held between the Santa Anita, Golden Gate, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) decided that all horses born after 2018 (horses making their debut in 2020 or later) will have to race without medication at Santa Anita and Golden Gate. This allows trainers to adjust their stables over the next few years to medication-free horses.
Investigators with the Los Angeles County District Attorney are working with the California Horse Racing Boards to investigate the twenty-two fatalities. Racing is set to resume at Santa Anita Park on March 29th.
The open letter was met with praise, outrage, and confusion. It seems that the majority of racing fans and industry insiders believe this to be a step in the right direction for reforming the sport, but the question remains: “Why have twenty-two horses been fatally injured at Santa Anita and not elsewhere?”.
I talked to a variety of racing fans and insiders to see what learn what their opinions on the breakdowns and what is being done to stop them are. All quotes that are included beyond this point are opinions that the participants have formed from their individual experiences (unless they are quotes from press releases or statements). Use these opinions from both sides of every argument to help you as you form your own thoughts on the subject matter.
Tom Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, told Fox 11 News that he has complete confidence in the track at Santa Anita. Southern California received more than eleven inches of rain in February and many people believe that this has made the track unsafe. Others agree with Ritvo, voicing their concerns about the unsoundness of horses and the use of drugs.
Nicole Meiner, a 26 year old horse racing photographer, believes that the track has to be a factor, although it may not be the only reason for the breakdowns. “Whenever