California horse racing has seen a 50 percent decrease in deadly horse racing over the past two fiscal years, largely due to action by the California Horse Racing Board and teamwork with the entire California horse racing industry. After 144 horses died of racing or training injuries or other causes in FY 2018-19 while being housed in facilities under the jurisdiction of the CHRB, the number fell to 72 in FY 2020-21, a decrease of half.
This progress did not come suddenly. The list of security initiatives on the CHRB website goes back decades. Former race stewards showed a strong commitment to race safety. Track owners and management have provided guidance and resources. Equestrian groups have provided encouragement and support through the collaboration of owners, trainers, jockeys, vets and other industry stakeholders.
While the number of fatally injured horses has declined since 2005, the last financial year marked the most significant improvement in a single year with a decline of 40 percent. Continuing the actions of previous boards, which included setting up a judging panel for Santa Anita, led by Governor Gavin Newsom, the current commissioners expanded the judging panel program to all routes to ensure that the horses entered are competitive.
Dr. Greg Ferraro, Chairman, recalls that the Board set the course at its first meeting on November 22, 2019: “I have stated that our main focus will be on the health and safety of horses and riders. We have come a long way in delivering on this promise, and I assure everyone that we are committed to this endeavor with new policies and regulations. “
Over the past 19 months, Chair Ferraro, Vice Chair Oscar Gonzales and Commissioners Dennis Alfieri, Wendy Mitchell and Alex Solis, later joined by Commissioners Damascus Castellanos and Brenda Davis, have put in more than 40 regulatory actions, either directly or indirectly protect horses, thereby reducing the number of deaths and protecting riders. Among the most significant measures are the commissioners:
- Adopt rules restricting the use of the riding crop, which were the strictest rules in the nation at the time, while increasing penalties for violating those rules.
- Trainers must attend a full autopsy exam to raise awareness of the nature of the injuries and to discuss ways to prevent such injuries in the future. This has resulted in a culture shift in the California horse racing industry, with participants making horse protection a higher priority.
- Allows official veterinarians to request diagnostic imaging before horses are removed from the restrictive veterinary list and allowed to train or compete.
- Prohibited or severely restricted use of bisphosphonates, thyroxine, extracorporeal shock wave therapy and intra-articular injections before training sessions and races.
- Important steps have been taken to make veterinary treatments transparent to the authorities and, in certain cases, to new owners.
In addition, the CHRB recently created the new position of Chief Official Veterinarian and added Dr. Timothy Grande, longtime Official Veterinary of Southern California’s Whole Blood Circuit, appointed to take full responsibility for overseeing veterinarians, veterinary procedures and practices throughout the state. The CHRB also appointed Dr. Jeff Blea as Equine Medical Director who will bring new ideas, perspective and energy to this important role.
Executive Director Scott Chaney is enthusiastic about the direction the CHRB is taking: “I took this position a year and a half ago because of the commitment of this board and the government to real, meaningful, long-term reform in the animal welfare field. It was gratifying to be part of this upheaval in racing and the results are undeniable. We clearly have more to do, but with this reform-minded board of directors, committed employees and committed stakeholders, the future looks bright. “
Reform efforts will continue in all areas of animal welfare, with particular emphasis on the standardization and use of algorithms to identify high risk horses, completing the drug ban on race day, applying a science-based approach to increasing road safety and exploring other ways to do so Reduction and elimination of human and horse injuries.
Details of all board actions are available in the press releases on the CHRB website.
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