Thoroughbred racing’s year-end championships will happen as scheduled at Southern California’s Santa Anita Park in November, despite a recent spotlight on racehorse deaths at the park, the event’s board of directors said Thursday.
The 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships are scheduled for November 1-2 at Santa Anita, one of the most famous horse racing parks in the United States.
The park has come under heightened scrutiny after 30 horses died there since December. The state horse racing board is investigating trainers to see if they played a role in the deaths, and is working with prosecutors into whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the horses.
But the Breeders’ Cup board unanimously decided to keep the championships at the park this year after noting “meaningful and effective reforms and best practices have been implemented in recent months at Santa Anita,” the event’s president said.
“We fully embrace those reforms and will devote our time and energy in the coming months to further advance those efforts,” Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup president and CEO, said. “We look forward to showing the world the best in thoroughbred racing at one of its finest venues.”
The event is considered one of the sport’s biggest and richest, with about $28 million in prizes doled out across the event’s 14 races last year.
This will be the 10th time in the 36-year history of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships the event will be held at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, just northeast of Los Angeles.
The park’s regular racing season ended Sunday.
The deaths at Santa Anita
Racehorse deaths happen, no matter where horse racing events are staged. From 2009 to 2018, there were 6,134 horse deaths in 3.4 million starts nationwide, according to a tally kept by the Jockey Club, an organization focusing on the integrity, health and safety of horse racing.
But Santa Anita Park closed for evaluation March 5 after 21 horses died there over three months. Experts conducted numerous tests, including simulations and soil sample analyses, during the closure, the track said.
Santa Anita then reopened in late March, with numerous changes: Trainers must apply two days in advance before working out a horse; jockeys must replace whips with softer “cushion crops;” and restrictions on steroids, anti-inflammation drugs and race-day medications were instituted.
Analysis of five years of data from California’s three busiest parks show Santa Anita has been the deadliest, with 232 racing and training deaths of horses in 44,475 starts, the state horse racing board says. That’s 5.2 deaths per 1,000 starts, and while that appears to be significantly higher than the national numbers, the Jockey’s Club’s data does not include training deaths.
The problems at Santa Anita Park have centered on its 1-mile dirt track, though there have been deaths on its turf track and deaths not associated with racing or training.
New law lets California suspend races for safety reasons
On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill allowing the state’s horse racing board to suspend horse racing licenses if the board deems it necessary to protect horses’ or riders’ safety. The law, which took effect immediately, essentially allows the board to temporarily shut down a racing park.
Previously, the board couldn’t force a closure without the approval of the track’s operator, short of an allegation of a rule violation.