The president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup said Wednesday that “everything humanly possible” has been done to try to prevent horses from being injured during the two-day series of races that begins Friday at Santa Anita Park.
Thirty-six horses have died at the Arcadia track since last December.
“I think you’d be naive not to acknowledge that people are watching very carefully and that’s why we’re paying so much attention to injury prevention,” said Craig Fravel, who will leave his post with the Breeders’ Cup sometime after this weekend’s event to become CEO of racing operations for Santa Anita’s parent organization, The Stronach Group.
Fravel acknowledged that Santa Anita — which is hosting the Breeders’ Cup for a record 10th time — became a “focal point” following the string of horse deaths that resulted in the track being closed in March for about three weeks. The deaths also prompted track officials to announce a series of measures to try to allay concerns about the horses’ safety amid protests from animal rights activists.
“This is not a sport that is anxious for those kind of things to happen. What we are is anxious to prevent them (from happening) and are putting extraordinary amounts of time and energy … and the horsemen are doing the same, so it’s an industry that cares deeply about these horses,” Fravel said. “I think that’s a message if I were trying to tell the general public something they should understand that would be it.”
The organization’s board of directors unanimously decided in late June to keep Santa Anita as the site for this year’s Breeders’ Cup following the deaths of 30 thoroughbreds, despite some speculation that the event could be moved to another track. Since then, six more horses have died — two within the last week.
“I don’t think when people take corrective measures and sincere efforts to correct the situation and address something that you turn your back on them and go somewhere else because it’s just not the right thing to do,” Fravel told reporters.
The Breeders’ Cup executive said he doesn’t have any specific concerns about the upcoming races at Santa Anita “because literally no stone has gone unturned here to prevent anything from happening.”
“But, you know, you can never say never, as my wife tells me. But I’m not concerned about any effort that we haven’t put forward or any steps that we should have taken that we haven’t. So, I think we have done everything humanly possible to prevent anything from happening. But only God really knows what can happen,” Fravel said.
At a media briefing on safety and security issues, the Breeders’ Cup’s veterinary team leader said the largest veterinary team it has ever had on hand will be at the track for the races, and multiple inspections will be done of each of the Breeders’ Cup horses both at rest and in motion. A team of more than 30 veterinarians will be stationed around the track to ensure there are no incidents that a veterinarian would not be able to observe, said Debbie Lamparter, the veterinary team’s leader.
“No horses racing anywhere have been more examined or observed than these horses,” she said. “All of this is being done to ensure the best for the horse and to make sure that we have done our utmost for the safety of these racehorses.”
Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said horse safety has always been the most important factor.
He noted that the focus is on “injury prevention,” but a team of veterinarians who will be on hand are “well prepared to handle on-track emergencies” and that they won’t hesitate to provide a “precautionary, courtesy ride” back to the barn in an equine ambulance for any horses that need it.
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