View From The Eighth Pole: California Safety Initiative A Model To Follow

by | 09.12.2017 | 12:15pm

Racing in California has a lot of problems.

In the last 10 years, Bay Meadows near San Francisco and Hollywood Park near Los Angeles have been closed for development. Land on which most racetracks, farms and training facilities sit is more valuable for other uses, whether residential or business. A 2011 increase in takeout designed to boost purses for horse owners has not panned out, according to a recent report, but it soured many horseplayers on California racing. Costs of ownership are spiraling, some say out of control, while the state legislature has so far turned a blind eye to any kind of relief for the industry. Animal rights protestors became a daily presence at Del Mar during the state's premier race meeting.

But California gets a lot of things right.

It was the first state to take horse racing fatalities seriously, starting a necropsy program in 1990 at the University of California-Davis that is a model for the industry to help understand the cause of such injuries. Its regulatory board has tackled many difficult subjects in a very public and transparent way – from synthetic racing surfaces to the voiding of claims to out-of-competition testing – and has taken more heat than it's received in platitudes. California established the first owner-funded aftercare program, CARMA, upon which the national Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance is based.

And now California again is leading the way with an awareness campaign through a co-op organization, Cal Racing Cares, and its website,, designed to educate the public about the care given to Thoroughbred racehorses and the extraordinary measures taken to ensure their safety.

Watch the video below and imagine a similar public service campaign that could be broadcast online and at racetracks throughout North America, with one major caveat: those tracks and the state agencies that regulate them cannot talk the talk if they do not walk the walk.

Are private racetrack veterinarians making decisions that are always in the best interests of the horse, as former American Association of Equine Practitioners President Dr. Jeff Blea says in the Cal Racing Cares video? Are racetracks and regulators in other states using the science available, plus resources like the Equine Injury Database and enhanced track maintenance procedures, to improve safety? Are regulators hiring enough veterinarians to conduct pre-race examinations and monitoring the soundness of horses in the mornings and afternoons? Are they vigilant in drug testing – both post-race and out-of-competition – to prevent abuse of the animals and ensure integrity in the game?

The answer in too many states, sadly, is a resounding “no.” That must change if racing is to win back public support and ensure itself a healthy future.

That's my view from the eighth pole.



  • Rick Gold

    I was at Del Mar this summer when they first showed this video between races. It was powerful. I was impressed by how many people paid attention and by the discussions it stimulated. Kudos to the TOC and CHRB for making it happen. If we don’t tackle the issue and define the narrative then others will do it for us.

  • Blue Larkspur

    This is definitely a step in the right direction. However, Ms. Derek is incorrect: racing is not “natural” to the herd animal. Wild horses generally have been found to follow a lead mare, who dictates when and where the herd moves and the stallion who will run off rival suiters, but not at a designated “finish”.

    • Scott

      you are correct Blue Larkspur ,it is NOT a natural aspect of wild horses to race at a full gallop unless fleeing a hunter.

      • Erin Casseday

        Key word in your statement is “wild”. These are not that.

        • Blue Larkspur

          They wouldn’t race a mile and a quarter against each other if we all died, Erin. SMH

          • Erin Casseday

            If we were all dead, then the would not be domesticated now would they? In essence, they would all become “wild”, so your point is a mute one. 😉

          • Blue Larkspur

            Since you lack logic, let me explain how sad and incorrect your comment is: if we were all dead, they would revert to nature, thus they would be “natural”, which means, basically in this instance, without human intervention. So, no , dear, YOUR comment is mute.
            Thanks for playing

            Troll … any comment I make …

          • Erin Casseday

            No. Thank you. It is always entertaining reading your responses. LOL!

          • Blue Larkspur

            xaan … 1 comment; 42 followers…. hmmmm

      • Rufusous

        Time to review the origins of the thoroughbred purebred, and to come to understand how the breed was first created. It is pretty remarkable.

    • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

      I agree with your description of the norms and habits of wild horses. However, I think you’ve slightly mischaracterized Bo Derek’s comments when taken in their full context.

      Here’s exactly what Derek said: “Of all the things we ask of horses, racing it’s the most natural thing we ask of them. These are happy horses. That’s one of the things I love about racing most is that we have to indulge them and give them the best life possible.”

      The key phrase is “Of all the things we ask of horses…” and in that context she may actually be correct. One could argue that racing is more natural than many, if not most, of the other things we humans have asked of horses over the ages, such as pulling plows and wagons, transporting soldiers into battle (war horses) etc.

      • Blue Larkspur

        It sends a wrong message

      • Erin Casseday

        Agree. Just look at how “natural” western pleasure horses are made to go. Or flip the coin and look at how “natural” the big stepping Tennessee Walking horse ( and ASB) are made to go. Racing is more natural for the horse.

      • disqus_VDMOBiuPfw


  • gus stewart

    Well done, its been how many years since racing has put together such a positive veiw of the sport. What remains to be seen is this going to start a platform for marketing outside of racetracks also. But this was really well done so no add ons from me. Things like this, then medications controlled from private vets eliminated, then entertainment nights at facilties and you may find this sport could have potetial to be somewhat resurrected in 2018 and forward

    • Noval

      “Medications controlled from private vets eliminated”??? So, you want my horses to going get the same good, government-controlled medical care that the veterans in the VA hospitals get?

      • gus stewart

        I am going to respond even though you have to be kidding. Having a few vets working for each racetrack with pharmacies on the backstretch only, and all vehicles and individuals seriously checked at backstretch entrances, and lengthy penalties to the employed vets by the track, would eliminate almost all illegal meds in racing. It is absolutely a reality, if the will is there, so far it isn’t. and as far as your horses still getting proper care from these vets, I am sure it would be just as good. Most vets I believe really do care about the animals. lets not go into our humans government we have to deal with, I don’t have much hope at all!!!!!

        • Noval

          The day that the government mandates that I have to use one of their vets to ensure the health of my horse will be my last day in racing.

          • gus stewart

            Oh ok, and that means the state vet that scratches your horse or others at gate for whatever reason he or she feels obligated to do for the horse is in your opinion, not qualified to do so. Maybe if that happens to u b4 the race starts you can call the stewards and say,, hey wait b4 u start the race my vet will come out and fix the problem at the if u are really serious about ur comment, u have issues..

          • Noval

            I’ve never had one scratch because of a state vet’s call because when my vet says they have issues they don’t get entered. On the other hand, I’ve seen hundreds of horses break down that the state vets passed as racing sound. I guess that’s my “issue” as you say – I prefer my horses to get competent medical care from a DVM that I pay for, rather than from a government employee with no other real employment options besides a taxpayer-funded paycheck.

      • Blue Larkspur

        No – we want your horses to stop receiving drugs they shouldn’t get.

        • Noval

          You have no better point than to accuse someone you disagree with doping their horse? Sad little man.

          • Blue Larkspur

            You obviously have something to hide. Why else would you desperately argue with everyone here? Afraid of losing that private vet is my opinion …

            And I am a tall blonde

          • Noval

            Sad little “tall blonde.”

          • Blue Larkspur

            And now the personal attack … you really know how to debate like an eight year old.
            Buh bye

          • Noval

            A little projection by you there. Actually a lot of projection.

          • gus stewart

            Nice try in trying to understand some comments made on this blog. You said what i didnt want to say, oh please dont let me lose my cutting edge vet, i see most people on this blog are east coast based. As i said here in calif, when a trainer loses a certain vets services, he goes on a losing streak. And again, they maybe within the current guidelines set by the state, but it doesnt make the playing field fair for other owners, who eithier cant afford those vets, or choose not to push the envelope with thier horses and horses welfare long term. And dats dats dats da truth

          • Blue Larkspur

            I replied to you over on the other thread … maybe a new, younger governor will change things a bit here. I think the racing industry has been left alone to “govern itself” by both parties. Newer generations from urban areas view the horses less and less as “investments”.

          • gus stewart

            As ive stated, im a gringo over 50, ouch that hurts to say that age part,,lol, i have preached for years, women, younger people and differnt ethnicities are desperately needed to help racings future. If u look at whats running it currently, u see many men only, that look like me.. but of course not as attractive lol, that are open minded to change, and have any game to sell to the demographics i have mentioned

    • Hamish

      Yes, a nice message in this eye opening production. If only the CHRB could exert some influence over the California Vet Board/Commission to come onto the racetrack and audit/analyze the practices of the backside vets to be certain that these licensed professionals are acting per their oath and state law. Over medicating the race horse, or trying new substances, or combinations of permitted legal ones is no way to keep the horse racing. Track maintenance procedures surely do contribute to horse and rider safety, so this is all good. Following former runners to see that they remain safe in their post racing careers is the right thing to do, so props for that.

      • gus stewart

        Agree, this has been long overdue, and if there was a governing body that could implement the things you said and they have mentioned, a well thought out national advertising campaign outside of in house racing adds, that all tracks and breeders and jockeys could get behind to show people the amazing sport it used to be and what it could be again. When i see motor racing, bowling, high school volleyball, sorry sports yes but not horse racing,, get more coverage, marketing folks in this business and team management’s of tracks should be hanging thier heads and kicked to the curb

      • billy

        You get it right time and time again…ty

  • Lina_TX

    Great video!

  • Michael Castellano

    Nice video.

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