Gorajec: What CHRB Got Right, Wrong In Animal Welfare Case

by | 06.18.2019 | 5:27pm

Former racing regulator Joe Gorajec takes readers inside a recent stewards hearing in California that considered the case of a trainer charged with an animal welfare violation after working and entering a horse to race that his veterinarian said should undergo surgery because of a fractured sesamoid.

Writing in his InsideRacingRegs blog published at The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's Horse Racing Reform website, Gorajec quotes from the California Horse Racing Board complaint against trainer Michael Pender and includes selected testimony from Pender, his private veterinarian, Dr. Heather Wharton, and the CHRB's equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur.

Wharton testified under oath that she told Pender the horse New Karma required surgery after taking radiographs of the 7-year-old's left front ankle on Feb. 25 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Pender, who got a more favorable reading of the X-ray on a second opinion from a private veterinarian according to the transcript of the hearing, breezed the horse one month later (a best of the morning workout), then shipped New Karma to Golden Gate Fields in Northern California and entered him in a race on April 6.

New Karma was scratched from that race after Dr. Melinda Blue, whose private practice employes Wharton, contacted the CHRB and notified them of the fracture.

Arthur, in his testimony, said: “I would not expect this horse to continue training. To me, either the horse should have been operated on or stopped on. The sesamoid constitutes the majority of the fractures we see in horse racing. In fact, in the recent spate of injuries (at Santa Anita), 19 out of 22 of the horses that died here had sesamoid fractures. It's a very high-risk fracture.”

Gorajec, the longtime executive director of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, writes, “Of all the testimony in the four-hour hearing, the following exchange stood out to me:”

CHRB Steward Grant Baker: Mr. Pender, looking back on the chain of events, if you had to do it all over again, would you have handled anything differently with regards to “New Karma”?

Mr. Pender: No. 

Stewards ultimately suspended Pender 30 days for two CHRB violations.

“I give the CHRB high marks for detecting this infraction and taking the effort to perform the investigation necessary to bring a formal complaint,” writes Gorajec. “I believe many jurisdictions would have just scratched the horse and never bothered to follow up with an investigation.

However, the length of the suspension was “inadequate,” Gorajec writes.

“Violating an animal welfare rule by endangering the life of a horse and rider should be one of the most serious offenses that a licensee can face,” he writes.  “The penalty imposed should reflect the seriousness of the infraction. Simply stated, this one doesn't.”

Read more at InsideRacingRegs.

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