Joe Harper, chief executive officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Del Mar, Calif., issued a statement on Tuesday concerning new safety protocols being put in place for the 80th summer season of horse racing that begins July 17 at the seaside track.
The protocols follow the lead of many of the changes proposed in March by The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., and supported by the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Horse Racing Board. The changes were made after a spike in equine fatalities during racing or training at Santa Anita from the Dec. 26, 2018, opening day until early March. The fatalities – sustained during an unusually cold and wet winter for Southern California – put horse racing under a media microscope, leading to calls by some politicians and animal rights advocates to close the track and the opening of an investigation into the deaths by the Los Angeles district attorney. One fatality has been reported at Santa Anita during the six weeks since the new safety and welfare protocols went into effect more than six weeks ago.
Harper's statement, issued as “A Letter to Our Patrons,” is not specific about medication changes but said the track will be instituting International Federation of Horseracing Authorities standards, which prohibit race-day medication. Del Mar recently joined with other major North American tracks calling for a partial ban of race-day administration of Lasix, or furosemide, to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or internal bleeding. That ban would start with 2-year-olds of 2020 and extend to stakes races in 2021.
Harper's statement follows in full:
“As most of you are aware, horse safety and welfare has been a topic in the news recently. As we draw closer to Del Mar's 80th summer season, we'd like to address our ongoing efforts with industry stakeholders on reforms to ensure a safe environment for racing.
“Del Mar is committed to the industry's most progressive safety and welfare protocols and has taken great strides in recent years to implement a number of procedures intended to make racing at Del Mar safer including:
- Reducing race days to allow us more time to prepare our racing surfaces
- Investing $12 million in state-of-the-art racing facilities and surfaces
- Enhancing pre-race veterinarian inspections
- Adding Mick Peterson, the pre-eminent track surface analyst in the country, to our team
- Reducing the horse population in the stable area to ensure the safest possible training environment
- Adjusting morning training routines to allow for surfaces to be in optimal condition
“I'm happy to report those changes contributed to a 70% reduction in catastrophic injuries. We believe there are even more opportunities for continued improvement. Therefore, we will be implementing additional enhanced procedures for the upcoming summer meet including:
- Instituting International Federation of Horseracing Authorities medication standards – the strictest in the world
- Revising training protocols including additional veterinarians to oversee workouts
- Increasing out-of-competition testing
- Enhancing stable security
- Developing a stakeholder advisory committee
“We believe these enhancements will make racing at Del Mar even safer for both our equine and human athletes. Opening Day is right around the corner, and our racing team is excited to welcome you back this summer.”
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