Santa Anita Park was in dire straits three years ago. It shut down racing for a time after seeing 24 horses die in early-2019.
Santa Anita’s fabled one-mile dirt track came to a standstill. Horse experts were stumped, and racing fans were shocked. Two days after the track closed, its owners, the Stronach Group (TSG), announced it had reached an agreement with Thoroughbred Owners of California to overhaul safety standards.
Since then, it’s been a complete 180. The track says it ended its 2021-2022 season as the “safest track in North America” among tracks with similar volumes of racing and training.
Santa Anita Park is one of California’s most prominent racetracks. Wagering on horses is legal in California, but California sports betting is still banned. Santa Anita, however, could get in-person sports betting if Proposition 26 passes this November.
Safety turnaround a collective effort
The track’s safety record improved 74% since its ill-fated 2019 season. Its year-on-year safety record improved by 62.5%. There were no musculoskeletal racing deaths on the park’s main dirt track last season. Furthermore, the season was the safest on record in the history of the track.
In a press release, Santa Anita Park General Manager and Senior Vice President Nate Newby said the turnaround took teamwork.
“These results highlight the efforts of the entire racing community to put the safety of the horse above all else. The diligence and dedication of the owners, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians and the hardworking men and women who care for the horses each day are truly revolutionizing the sport. … None of the protocols, however, work without our horse players who have backed this transformation, and we are grateful for their continued support.”
Newby also gave a shout-out to the on-site crew at the California horse racing venue.
Changes to medication policy key to success
Following Santa Anita’s shocking shutdown in 2019, stakeholders worked to make racing safe again. Their efforts produced an overhaul of the track’s medication policy. Those changes included a series of initiatives.
- A ban on intra-articular corticosteroid treatments within 14 days of racing
- Horses cannot have more than one corticosteroid in their system after the race
- Therapeutic medications and treatments are not allowed unless a state-licensed vet provides a qualified veterinary diagnosis
- Lasix is the only race-day medication horses can take
- Two-year-old horses have to be medication-free on race day
- No race-day furosemide
- TSG can administer blood testing after any race
- Veterinary-record transparency
The changes the park and stakeholders (including the California Horse Racing Board) made are included in the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. It will go into effect in July. Racing Chief Veterinary Officer Dionne Benson talked about the collective effort in Santa Anita’s press release.
“We appreciate that this involves extra effort for our stakeholders. But this heightened scrutiny has allowed for additional opportunities to work with everyone for the best interest of the horse.”
Though the spring-winter season is over at Santa Anita, the fall season will kick off on Sept. 30. The upcoming season features 26 stakes races over five weeks.