Heavy clouds are seen over the San Gabriel Mountains at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., Thursday, March 7, 2019. In depth testing of the filth monitor is beneath means at eerily quiet Santa Anita, where the deaths of almost two dozen thoroughbreds in two months has pressured the indefinite cancellation of horse racing. (Photograph: The Related Press)
A shocking rash of horse fatalities might be respiration life into efforts to reform thoroughbred racing.
9 days after Santa Anita was shut down following almost two dozen race-related deaths, Kentucky Republican Andy Barr and New York Democrat Paul Tonko reintroduced legislation Thursday that would establish uniform national medication standards, including the elimination of race-day Lasix.
The Horse Racing Integrity Act has failed to gain traction in three previous attempts since 2011, but advocates are hopeful the political calculus is changing amid the fallout from a recent rash of horse fatalities at Santa Anita.
Background: After Santa Anita’s horse deaths, ‘we have to care’ in Kentucky
Barr said the timing of the bill’s introduction was coincidental, but it occurred on the same day Santa Anita experienced its 22nd fatality since Dec. 26, a Thursday morning accident when Princess Lili B broke both front legs at the end of a half-mile workout.
“What’s happened out there at Santa Anita, it scares me,” said breeder Arthur Hancock, owner of Stone Farm in Paris, Kentucky. “It’s a crisis. … I hope it has softened some of the objections from some people.”
“It’s not an issue only in California,” Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed nationally.”
Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, says the state’s rate of race-related fatalities was “unprecedented” in 2018 at 2.39 per 1,000 starts. Veterinarians reports show Churchill Downs’ rate was higher still last year, with 16 race-related fatalities translating as 2.73 per 1,000 starts.
Scollay says the causes for the spike are “multifactorial,” but Hancock suspects painkillers cause hurt horses to continue competing at greater risk of catastrophic injuries. Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of Santa Anita parent The Stronach Group, says perceived pressure on trainers to fill fields with unsound horses is an issue, “We can’t run from.”
“Everyone knows that this could be them,” Ritvo told The Paulick Report. “The Ringling Brothers Circus doesn’t exist any more. SeaWorld has had to change. We have to come together and put strong protocols in place. … There were things that were acceptable when I was an 18-year-old kid that aren’t acceptable any more.”
Hancock, whose grandfather founded the renowned Claiborne Farm in 1910, says veterinarians, drug companies and Churchill Downs have posed the primary obstacles to meaningful change.
“None of our powerful politicians in the state except for Andy (Barr) support this (bill) and the…