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As we start the countdown to the Nov. 4-5 Breeders' Cup, many contenders are already on-site at Santa Anita Park, putting in final moves over the track. Clockers' Corner is still relatively uncrowded; trainers and jockeys still seem relaxed, sipping coffee as they scope out the competition. The barns are getting busier and fuller, however, and there are yet more horses scheduled to come in over the next few hours. When they do, they'll have a member of the racetrack's security team monitoring their every move.
At the end of September, track management announced a seven-figure investment in more than 1,000 video cameras on the backside. The cameras are trained on stalls, barn aisles, entry gates, and track gaps. Like the high-definition cameras placed in Keeneland's barns ahead of 2015 Breeders' Cup, the level of clarity and detail from Santa Anita's cameras is incredible. A security guard waves in view of a gate cam, and I can make out the tattoos on his arm. I can tell what color the hardware on a halter is from where it hangs by a stall door, and I can see the edges of a rag as a groom flicks it over a horse's neck.
For years, I've watched television shows following criminal investigations, squinting in disbelief when a forensics expert blows up a tiny, pixelated section of a surveillance video and magically clarifies it to show detailed information like a license plate. (Who were you kidding, “Law and Order”?) These cameras seem to deliver on that Hollywood pipe dream.
Unlike the cameras at Keeneland, which were paid for by Breeders' Cup and scheduled for removal after the end of the races, this set is permanent.
Technicians sit in a room in front of a giant wall of television screens, rotating between grid after grid of camera feeds. Sometimes, security officials watch footage live, and other times they look back at archived film for suspicious activity. Users can create designated lists of camera feeds corresponding to stalls housing contenders for a particular race, which means someone could theoretically spend all day staring at the Classic contenders munching hay.
The cameras should help during the regular race meetings, too. Lou Scalera, head of security for Santa Anita, is hopeful archived footage could aid the California Horse Racing Board during investigations.
“There's no question it will help immensely,” said Scalera. “If we see something, we'll make a copy of it and ship it to them immediately.”
In one case from earlier this week, one camera actually caught a barn worker appearing to manipulate the angle of another camera. In a matter of hours, he was caught and confronted by security about his actions.
In the month it's been active, Scalera said his team has been fine-tuning the system. The track has the storage capacity to keep footage from every camera stored for 30 days, but is working to up the timeline to 60 days. They also hope to eventually offer trainers the option to subscribe to their barn's feed to keep an eye on a specific horse.
“Ninety-five percent of trainers are in favor of this and think it's great,” said Scalera.
The cameras won't replace live security guards for Breeders' Cup horses, however. Entered competitors will be under 24-hour surveillance for 72 hours ahead of their race. Additional security guards and Breeders' Cup investigators will be patrolling the barn area independent of the horse guards. Breeders' Cup veterinary soundness exams take place throughout the week in addition to CHRB's race-day examinations.
“The trainers know who we all are,” said Michael Kilpack, Breeders' Cup Equine Security Team Coordinator. “We want to be visible.”
Kilpack and his team of investigators learned from the ease of the set-up at Keeneland last year, where all Breeders' Cup horses were in a handful of barns on Rice Road, away from the main stable area. This year, home team horses will stay in their regular stalls, but 80 percent of ship-ins will be limited to one of three barns to maximize security efficiency.
Scalera and his department are also working on race-day security for Breeders' Cup participants on the front side. Daily bomb sweeps of the grandstand happen the week of the races, and many private security and law enforcement officers will be stationed throughout the track Friday and Saturday. Big-event procedures have remained the same in many ways since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001 and are very tough, but Scalera said he has to be vigilant; just having a multi-faceted security plan isn't necessarily enough to deter someone with sinister intentions toward horses or humans.
“We take every precaution there is,” said Scalera. “Anything can happen in today's times.”
A few additional scenes from an overcast Sunday at Santa Anita:
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