The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to support legislation that would give the California Horse Racing Board authority to suspend a horse racing license when necessary to protect the health and safety of horses and riders.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger authored the motion to back Senate Bill 469, sponsored by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, which would expand the racing board’s oversight. Suspending a license to conduct a horse racing meet would require the vote of at least four members of the seven-member racing board, and the suspension would remain in effect until all safety issues are resolved.
Since the day after Christmas, 29 horses have died at Santa Anita race track, which has been under increasing pressure to cease operations.
The California Horse Racing Board asked Santa Anita to cancel the last six days of the season, but management refused, announcing June 9 it would stay open through the final three days of racing this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“We are collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport — grooms, hot walkers, jockeys, exercise riders, starters, trainers, owners, track managers and every horse wearing a bridle and a saddle — to reform and improve racing every day. After extensive consultation among all partners, Santa Anita Park will stay open through the end of its meet to see these reforms through,” according to a statement by The Stronach Group — which owns Santa Anita — along with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers.
The racing board has jurisdiction over the licensing of horse racing and the allocation of race dates statewide. But it has limited ability to intervene to cancel races without the approval of the track.
Last Wednesday, one day after Gov. Gavin Newsom called for horses to be medically cleared before being allowed to race, the owners of Santa Anita racetrack said a “safety review team” will evaluate all horses prior to the remaining races. Under the plan, developed and announced in conjunction with the racing board, no horse will be permitted to race unless all members of the team agree the horse is fit, according to The Stronach Group.
The Santa Anita track was shuttered for most of March while an investigation was conducted into the racing surface.
In early April, track officials announced a series of measures to help bolster the safety of horses at the track, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get permission in advance before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
The most recent death at the track occurred June 9, when 3-year-old filly Trufflino suffered an apparent heart attack. That followed the euthanization a day earlier of Formal Dude, a 4-year-old gelding, who sustained an injury during a race.
The Board of Supervisors directed staffers to send a letter of support to Newson, Dodd and the county’s legislative delegation in support of SB469, which is set to be heard again by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
Santa Anita is scheduled to host the 2019 Breeders’ Cup in November.