New Santa Anita safety measures to be enacted

New safety measures designed to protect horses training and racing at Santa Anita will be overseen by a five-member team of independent veterinarians and stewards from the California Horse Racing Board, it was announced Wednesday night.

The CHRB will work closely with The Stronach Group, which owns the facility, to implement the new measures.

The new protocol comes less than a week after the CHRB called for a suspension of racing at Santa Anita due to the deaths of 29 horses either training or racing there since late December. On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom again expressed dismay over the equine fatalities.

A group of five people, including CHRB equine medical director Rick Arthur and steward Darrel McHargue, will review the racing, training and medical histories of every horse. In order for a horse to race, all five members of the review team must agree that a horse's injury risk is not elevated if he or she was to run.

In addition to the history of the horse and observations the panel might make, they will also look at any history the horse has on the Veterinarian's and Steward's Lists.

If one of the five raises an issue, the horse will not run. If the panel says a horse cannot run, the racing secretary at Santa Anita will then be told not to allow the horse to race. In the announcement, it says the racing secretary should "treat the review team's recommendation as the final word."

"These are historic safety enhancements," CHRB executive director Rick Baedeker said in a statement Wednesday night. "We are taking these additional steps to further mitigate the risk to horses at Santa Anita. The California Horse Racing Board is committed to doing all we can to ensure the safety of the horses there."

Santa Anita had 22 horses die from Dec. 26, 2018, until March 5, when the track closed to evaluate what was causing the fatalities. It reopened March 29 and another horse died days after the track reopened. Santa Anita then went almost two months with no known deaths before May 18.

Six horses have died since, including two last weekend, which prompted another strong response from both the CHRB and Newsom, who had previously spoken out about the equine fatalities in California in May.

"Never have we had this additional layer of review with a team of experts to connect data points and confer on the well-being and capability of individual race horses," said Alexis Podesta, who oversees the CHRB as the Secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, in a statement. "Furthermore, recommendations coming from this team will be the final word as to whether or not a horse races.

"I expect the industry as a whole will embrace this effort."

Unlike many major American sports, there is no national body overseeing rules for horse racing nationally. Instead, most states set their own rules and regulations for horse racing protocols.

The new protocols at Santa Anita will be in place for the last six days of the meet, which ends June 23.