Santa Anita Track makes changes: NPR



Horses and riders charge towards the end of a race on the day of Santa Anita Derby. The Derby was the most prominent event on a calendar that included 11 horse races.

Tom Goldman / NPR


hide subtitle

change title

Tom Goldman / NPR

Horses and riders charge towards the end of a race on the day of Santa Anita Derby. The Derby was the most prominent event on a calendar that included 11 horse races.

Tom Goldman / NPR

The famous horse racing track, Santa Anita Park, is in operation after being closed for much of last month after an increase in race horse deaths. Since the end of December 2018, 23 thoroughbreds have died, mainly due to injuries caused by racing or training. The deaths have forced the horse racing industry and the public to carefully badyze the sport and some of the issues that have been debated for years: does the economy of horse racing take precedence over the health and well-being of horses? animals? Should race horses be medicated and, if so, how much?

In mid-March, US lawmakers introduced a bill to improve the safety of horse racing by requiring a uniform drug control and anti-doping program. Thorough blood medication has been a major controversy in the United States. US, Some drugs mask the symptoms that, according to critics, can cause catastrophic injuries in horses. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has badigned investigators to work with the California Horse Racing Board to try to find out what caused the Santa Anita deaths.

In the midst of increased scrutiny and concerns about the future of the racing industry, Santa Anita held one of its main events of the year last weekend.

"The great place of the race"

Last Saturday, at the Santa Anita Derby, it was easy to see why the track, founded in 1934, is nicknamed "The Great Race Place". From the rostrum along the stretch, it was a visual feast. A bright blue California sky, the San Gabriel Mountains just across the park, and a muscular thoroughbreds that rumble on the dirt road.

However, beneath this attractive and festive scene, there was anxiety among those who were connected to the track. His mantra in the previous days had been "just pbaded on Saturday." After 23 thoroughbred deaths, Santa Anita certainly did not want other. Not on a day when NBC will broadcast the Derby, a major race to prepare for the Kentucky Derby next month.

The best rider, Joel Rosario, focused on his careers, but he was still aware of the bigger problem.

"I hope everything goes well. [and] Soft, "Rosario said after finishing a race early in the day."[Hopefully] We do not have any problem ".

Apprehension in the stands.

Steve Bazela was among the more than 30,000 customers who paid and bet in Santa Anita on Saturday. He has been coming to the track since the 1960s. He certainly did not want to see what he had seen just a week before. The catastrophic injury of a thoroughbred named Arms Runner, the most recent horse that died.

Rider Mike Smith celebrates aboard the Roadster, coached by Bob Baffert, after his victory in Grade I, a $ 1 million horse race at the Santa Anita Derby last Saturday.

Photo of Benoit / AP


hide subtitle

change title

Photo of Benoit / AP

Rider Mike Smith celebrates aboard the Roadster, coached by Bob Baffert, after his victory in Grade I, a $ 1 million horse race at the Santa Anita Derby last Saturday.

Photo of Benoit / AP

"All you have to do is see that once or twice in your life and that changes you," said Bazela. "I saw a horse break at the finish line about eight years ago. [at Santa Anita]. I just walked to the parking lot, I was so upset. I mean, they give you everything they have. "

Bazela is 65 years old and still loves sports. But he did say that the incident made him more aware of "why it's such a dangerous game, and it's not just the horses, the riders get on these horses and their lives are at stake."

"We needed an elevator"

The great race of the day, the Santa Anita Derby, did not disappoint. The horses trained by Hall of Fame coach Bob Baffert finished 1-2 and qualified for the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert, the face of horse racing in this country, was excited and grateful that many fans attended and could see a whole day of injury-free racing.

"We needed an elevator," said Baffert. "I know I did it."

Catastrophic injuries occur in horse races, but these increases in deaths are not the norm. Baffert warned against overreaction.

"You do not have to burn the house just because the pipes are bad," he said, adding that "we're going to work on this, but I really think the weather caused a lot of this."

Baffert is not bad. In January and February, Southern California received a ton of rain. It affected the multi-layered dirt track in Santa Anita and represented a potential risk for the mbadive horses that need those layers to protect their legs.

But, a prominent California veterinarian veterinarian says you can not blame the rain.

"Frankly, we should not have run on some of the days we had a bad track," says Dr. Rick Arthur. "And some of the days when the track was not as good as it should have been, coaches should not have trained their horses."

Arthur is the equine medical director of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. He also advises the California Horse Racing Council on veterinary practices, drug testing and health and welfare issues.

He has been based in Santa Anita for more than four decades. Arthur says that those decisions to run and train horses when the track was not in good shape, are driven by a reality that goes beyond Santa Anita to many of the race tracks in this country. Where the focus, he says, is cheaper than horses.

That, he says, is the real problem with horse racing.

Why have 21 horses died at a California racetrack since December?

"The races have become more competitive over a period of time," says Arthur. "Horses work faster and there are fewer horses to adapt to the available slots, so there is more pressure on horses to compete more often."

Getting the horse racing industry (track managers, owners, coaches) to accept the ideas of fewer races and more rest for horses is going to be a culture change, says Arthur. But he adds that if that does not happen, and horses continue to die at higher rates, there is a unanimous belief in what will happen.

"If we do not make the races safer," he says, "I do not think the public will allow us to continue with the sport."

Regulatory medication

A more immediate, and perhaps easier, solution to make racing safer is to restrict the use of medications for racehorses. It has been a highly controversial issue over the years and critics of excessive medication point to what they call a more humane and effective use of drugs by the international racing industry.

Recent changes at Santa Anita put the track more in line with international standards. The California Horse Racing Council approved proposals from the owner of the track, the Stronach Group, to prohibit drugs given to horses on race day, medications that can mask the symptoms and put the horse at risk of get injured.

Activists for animal rights protest against the death of the horse races outside Santa Anita Park on March 10.

Mario Tama / Getty Images


hide subtitle

change title

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Activists for animal rights protest against the death of the horse races outside Santa Anita Park on March 10.

Mario Tama / Getty Images

The 125-year-old Jockey Club, which registers all the purebloods of the USA. UU., Supports the changes and published its own technical document at the end of March. The document calls for a comprehensive reform in the horse racing industry in the US. UU., And also focuses on drugs and drug tests.

The executive director of the Jockey Club, Matt Iuliano, says that his organization published a document in 2011 asking for a reform of the rules of medication for careers. It was similar to the new white book.

"We believe that time is even more mature now. [for reform]"Iuliano says, it's something we all need to worry about and have a unique approach to, how can we improve the health and safety of that? [horse]? "

What is different now

The last death in the avalanche of horse deaths in Santa Anita was March 31. The weather is now warm and Dr. Rick Arthur says the track is in great shape. Along with the new medication rules, more veterinarians have been sent to see horses during the training sessions. Even the toughest criticism in the industry, People for the ethical treatment of animals, praises the action of the group of owners.

"As tragic as it sounds, it's a good thing. [the spike of horse deaths] it happened here, "says PETA vice president Kathy Guillermo. Where the company that owns the track is trying to make a difference. "

Guillermo says his organization started working on the subject of deaths in horse races a decade ago, but now he feels that people outside the industry are more aware.

"What's different now," she says, "is that we have an audience that is intolerant of abuse, so it's getting a lot more attention, it's been a long time."

With the Kentucky Derby less than a month away, Guillermo says PETA is shifting its focus to Churchill Downs. At the end of last month, the Louisville Courier Journal described that The famous racecourse is one of the deadliest in the US. UU

Guillermo said in a statement this week: "PETA is warning Kentucky, no horse died during the weekend at the Santa Anita Derby, which seems to show the new rules of the track, although it is not as strong as it would have liked. to PETA, they are a step to save lives. " Downs has the second worst horse mortality rate in the country. The change is late. It has to come now. "

However, all those who breathe relieved before Santa Anita know that it could last little. Until the next catastrophic injury of the horse.

When leaving the track this weekend, a visitor wished good luck to the butler during the rest of the season. A butler enforces the rules of the races in Santa Anita.

"Thanks," she said. "We need all the good thoughts we can have."


Source link