March 16 (UPI) — Santa Anita officials and horse owners have announced an agreement on details of plans to phase out race-day medication for horses at two California tracks and to implement other safety-related measures.
The agreement follows 22 fatal horse breakdowns during the current meeting at Santa Anita and an earlier, unilateral, announcement by Belinda Stronach, president and chairman of The Stronach Group, which owns and operates Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.
A 10-day state approval process is required to implement the changes included in the agreement. Santa Anita, which has been closed for racing since March 5 in the wake of the horse deaths, will resume racing March 29, Stronach said.
The key element of the agreement is immediate reduction by 50 percent in the amount of the anti-bleeding medication commonly called Lasix administered to horses on days they race. Starting with foals of 2018, who will begin racing in 2020, Lasix will be banned completely.
Horsemen said an immediate, across-the-board ban on Lasix, which is a diuretic, would effectively eliminate from racing a significant number of horses dependent on the medication. Phasing in the prohibition provides a grace period for owners and trainers to adjust.
Illustrative of the sweeping nature of the change, 72 of the 74 horses entered for 10 races on Saturday’s program at Golden Gate Fields were listed as running with Lasix.
“We appreciate the willingness of Belinda Stronach of TSG and Jim Cassidy (President of California Thoroughbred Trainers) to negotiate in good faith and reach today’s agreement,” said Greg Avioli, President and CEO of Thoroughbred Owners of California. “I am confident we all share the same goal of making California racing safer and doing everything we can to provide additional safety and protection for our horses.”
The agreement includes several other safety- and medication-related changes that Stronach called a “groundbreaking model” for the industry.
“It is my hope the other tracks in California will follow suit,” she said. “TSG will begin consultation with our stakeholders in other states to put these standards into effect in those jurisdictions, in the best interest of horse racing.”
The Stronach Group also owns Gulfstream Park in Florida and Laurel Park and Pimlico in Maryland.