SANTA ANA, Calif. (FOX 11) - After a nearly month-long hiatus prompted by a spate of horse deaths, racing will resume at Santa Anita Park Friday, one day after the California Horse Racing Board approved restrictions on certain medications administered to the animals.
The CHRB also adopted a restriction that would mostly ban jockeys' use of whips -- or riding crops -- during races. But that regulation, which bans the use of whips except in circumstance when they are necessary to ensure safety, will not take immediate effect. The rule is still subject to a 45-day public comment period and will have to return to the board for a final vote.
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In the meantime, the existing rule will prevail, allowing a jockey to administer the whip three times in succession, followed by a pause allowing time for the horse to respond.
The overall result of the board's Thursday meeting, however, was to ensure today's resumption of racing at Santa Anita for the first time since March 5, when races were suspended indefinitely. A total of 22 horses have died at the track since Dec. 26, leading to extensive inspections of the track's racing surface.
The CHRB approved previously announced proposals to strictly limit the use of anti-inflammatory medications on horses. It also approved a much-discussed 50 percent reduction in the allowable amount of Lasix, a diuretic that helps prevent horses from hemorrhaging. Santa Anita officials had initially proposed a ban on Lasix, but struck a compromise with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers calling for a 50 percent reduction in allowable dosage.
Santa Anita officials previously announced a series of other measures being implemented to help bolster safety of the horses, including:
- Complete transparency of all veterinary records;
- Trainers must apply for permission to work a horse (a timed, high-speed training exercise) at least 48 hours in advance;
- No therapeutic medications of treatments will be allowed without a qualified veterinary diagnosis from a state licensed veterinarian;
- Significant and strict out-of-competition testing;
- Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race; and
- A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
Those measures, however, will not prevent animal-advocacy groups from protesting the resumption of racing at Santa Anita. Members of Last Chance for Animals and their supporters will stage a protest outside the track beginning at 10:30 a.m. The first race is set for 1 p.m.
The hiatus on racing at the track was prompted by the spate of 22 horse deaths. Between December and February of the previous year, 10 horses died at Santa Anita, compared with eight in 2016-17 and 14 in 2015-16.
The track averaged about 50 deaths per year from 2008-18, according to data from the CHRB.
The unusually large amount of rain that has fallen over the Southland this winter has been mentioned as a possible factor in explaining the surge in deaths.
Former track superintendent Dennis Moore and Mick Peterson of Racing Services Testing Lab were brought in to conduct a thorough analysis of the main track, and officials repeatedly said they found no problems.
With racing resuming, Santa Anita will have a busy schedule ahead.
The Grade 2 $200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes will headline proceedings Friday. The 82nd running of the Grade 1 $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap, which was originally scheduled for March 9, will now be run April 6, when the $1 million Santa Anita Derby headlines a day that will also offer a third Grade 1 stakes, the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks.
Also on April 6, the Grade 2 $200,000 Royal Heroine and the Grade 3 $150,000 Providencia will be complemented by two additional stakes, the $200,000 Evening Jewel and the $200,000 Echo Eddie.
Along with the Santa Anita Handicap, two other graded stakes originally scheduled for March 9 have been rescheduled and will now be run Saturday: the Grade 1 $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile and the Grade 2 $200,000 San Carlos will also be joined by the Grade 1 $400,000 Beholder Mile, which was originally scheduled for March 16, and the Grade 3 $100,000 Santa Ana Stakes.
The Grade 3 $100,000 San Simeon, which was originally scheduled for March 16 and then set for Saturday, is now set for Sunday.
CNS contributed to this report.