Filly’s death prompts re­forms at track

Santa Anita own­ers take dras­tic mea­sures against whip use and race-day drugs af­ter a 22nd horse dies.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Nathan Fenno

They faulted South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s un­usu­ally cold and wet win­ter.

They won­dered if some­thing was wrong with Santa Anita’s mile-long dirt track.

They brought in two ex­perts to study the mix­ture of sand, silt and clay. They tweaked safety rules in an ef­fort to iden­tify at-risk horses. They sus­pended rac­ing and train­ing last week.

But horses con­tin­ued dy­ing.

The surge in cat­a­strophic break­downs by horses at Santa Anita that have de­fied ex­pla­na­tion and roiled the sport con­tin­ued on a cloud­less Thurs­day morn­ing.

The day af­ter the track re­opened for train­ing, Princess Lili B broke both front legs at the end of a half-mile work­out and was eu­th­a­nized.

The loss of the 3-year-old filly was the 22nd rac­ing- or train­ing-re­lated horse death at the track since Dec. 26.

A few hours af­ter the death, the track’s own­ers banned the use of all race­day med­i­ca­tion and re­stricted whip use in the lat­est at­tempt to stop the deaths. The med­i­ca­tion de­ci­sion, which will bring the track into align­ment with

stan­dards es­tab­lished by the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Horserac­ing Au­thor­i­ties, is be­lieved to be with­out prece­dent in North Amer­i­can rac­ing.

“We have ar­rived at a wa­ter­shed mo­ment,” Belinda Stronach, chair­woman and pres­i­dent of the Stronach Group, the track’s owner, wrote in an open let­ter.

“There are some who will take a stand and tell you that it can­not be done,” Stronach con­tin­ued. “To them we say ‘the health and wel­fare of the horses will al­ways come first.’ … The time to dis­cuss ‘why’ these ad­vance­ments must take place is over. The only thing left to dis­cuss is ‘how.’ ”

The new rules will also be used at Stronach-owned Golden Gate Fields in Berke­ley.

Rick Baedeker, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Horse Rac­ing Board, ex­pects other tracks in the state to fol­low the lead of Santa Anita, where rac­ing is sched­uled to re­sume March 22, and Golden Gate Fields. Any new re­quire­ments passed by the CHRB wouldn’t take ef­fect un­til the sum­mer at the ear­li­est.

Vir­tu­ally ev­ery coun­try out­side North Amer­ica bans the use of med­i­ca­tion on race day. That in­cludes furosemide, bet­ter known as Lasix, which is sup­posed to lessen the risk of ex­er­ci­sein­duced pul­monary hem­or­rhage. The drug is so com­mon at U.S. tracks that re­sults sheets note which horses were in­jected.

Ac­cord­ing to data com­piled by the Jockey Club, only 3.6% of the 279,774 starts in the U.S. last year were made by horses with­out Lasix.

“Amer­i­can rac­ing is a bit of a lone ranger in­ter­na­tion­ally,” said Kenny McPeek, a thor­ough­bred trainer in Ken­tucky whose 19 wins with non-Lasix horses last year were the most in the U.S.

The drug is a po­tent di­uretic that causes a horse to uri­nate 15 to 20 liters in the hours be­fore a race.

At least 19 of the 22 horses who have died at Santa Anita in the re­cent surge used Lasix, ac­cord­ing to Equibase. Records for the three re­main­ing horses weren’t avail­able be­cause they hadn’t par­tic­i­pated in a race.

Lasix has been the sub­ject of fe­ro­cious de­bate in the sport for sev­eral years. Some view it as en­hanc­ing per­for­mance and po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing horses while oth­ers see it as harm­less and es­sen­tial to pro­tect­ing equine health.

“It’s al­most as if they think horses need drugs to race, and they’re un­will­ing to open their minds,” said Sid Gustafson, a Mon­tana vet­eri­nar­ian who has worked at Santa Anita and other Cal­i­for­nia tracks. He is a long­time op­po­nent of race­day med­i­ca­tion.

In ad­di­tion to ban­ning Lasix, the Stronach Group said it would strengthen rules on a va­ri­ety of is­sues in­clud­ing le­gal painkillers, an­abolic steroids and shock wave ther­apy. The com­pany also pledged “com­plete trans­parency” in vet­eri­nary records and in­creased drug test­ing out­side com­pe­ti­tion.

“Some of the changes are go­ing to be sig­nif­i­cant ad­just­ments,” said Henry Wil­liamson, who owns horses at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.

As the drama played out at Santa Anita on Thurs­day, mem­bers of Congress moved to bring in­creased over­sight to the sport. Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) rein­tro­duced the Horserac­ing In­tegrity Act, a mea­sure that would ban the use of med­i­ca­tion in the 24 hours be­fore a race and in­tro­duce na­tional stan­dards for horse rac­ing to re­place the hodge­podge of reg­u­la­tions from the 38 state rac­ing com­mis­sions.

The bill was first in­tro­duced in 2017. Dur­ing hear­ings last year by the House Sub­com­mit­tee on Dig­i­tal Com­merce and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion, some in­dus­try stal­warts railed against the ban on race-day med­i­ca­tion.

“Lasix use is not dop­ing, and no one, to my knowl­edge, can rea­son­ably con­clude oth­er­wise,” Eric Hamel­back, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional Horse­men’s Benev­o­lent and Pro­tec­tive Assn., tes­ti­fied at the time.

The Stronach Group sup­ported the bill, and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Mon­terey Park), whose dis­trict in­cludes Santa Anita, cospon­sored it.

Twenty horses died as a re­sult of races at Santa Anita in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est fig­ures col­lected by the Equine In­jury Data­base, for a rate of 2.4 deaths per 1,000 starts. That ex­ceeded the na­tional rate of 1.61 deaths per 1,000 starts the same year.

The fig­ures don’t in­clude deaths dur­ing train­ing and from other causes. While the data­base showed 150 deaths at Santa Anita from 2009 to 2017, CHRB data put the to­tal at 502 deaths dur­ing the same pe­riod. That in­cluded a high of 71 deaths in 2011-12.

None of those deaths prompted the kind of change an­nounced Thurs­day.

“We rec­og­nize that for real change to re­sult from this dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion we must en­gage those stake­hold­ers quickly and ded­i­cate time and other re­sources,” the Breed­ers’ Cup said in a state­ment in re­sponse to the med­i­ca­tion ban. “We must, as an in­dus­try, press for­ward on im­ple­ment­ing ex­ist­ing best prac­tices and rapidly pro­ceed with the con­sid­er­a­tion of fur­ther re­forms.… It is vi­tal that we all do so.”

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

TRAIN­ING at Santa Anita re­sumed only a day be­fore a 3-year-old filly broke both front legs Thurs­day. She was the 22nd horse to die at the track since Dec. 26.

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