The horse racing industry has resisted such changes for decades, and Santa Anita’s spike in fatalities once again put the sport’s lack of meaningful oversight in the spotlight. The Stronach Group, under pressure from animal rights groups as well as horse trainers, had perhaps little choice to take drastic measures to deflect blame.
“We will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes,” the statement said. “Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognize just how disruptive this might be.”
With the Kentucky Derby just eight weeks away, neither animal rights activists nor casual sports fans have the stomach to see a horse be put down after a catastrophic injury. Ever since the Kentucky Derby in 2008, when the filly Eight Belles had to be euthanized after finishing second, racing officials have worried that another high-profile breakdown could put the sport out of business.
In a 2012 series, The New York Times showed that 24 horses died each week at racetracks across America, many of them because of over-medication or a lack of regulatory protection. It prompted meaningful regulations across the United States that led to a decline in the death rate of horses.
The Stronach Group has had experts survey and test the racetrack, but no conclusion for the spike in fatalities has been offered. There are theories. Nearly 12 inches of rain have fallen since the meeting began, which has made maintaining a dirt track difficult, especially when “sealing” a track, or packing the dirt tight enough so that no water penetrates its surface. It can mean concrete footing for fragile 1,100-pound horses with ankles as slim as a Coke bottle.
The new restrictions, however, take aim at horse trainers and owners who have been among the most vocal at resisting tougher drug policies and harsher punishments. The revisions include banning the use of Lasix, a diuretic used to stop pulmonary bleeding but that has also been found to enhance performance, and increasing the ban on legal therapeutic anti-inflammatories, joint injections, shock wave therapy and anabolic steroids.
By banishing the use of a whip by jockeys, the hope is to stanch public perception that horses are beat to run faster.