Will Santa Anita learn from tragedy?

Will Santa Anita learn from tragedy?

March 24, 2019 9:53 PM
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The cessation of live racing at Santa Anita began March 7 and continued last week. It was hardly quiet at the Arcadia venue, however.

Here is a day-by-day look at the events that transpired.

Sunday March 10 – Santa Anita announces that racing will resume on Friday March 22. The track announces the following Stakes races have been cancelled: The Grade II San Felipe Stakes, the Grade II Californian Stakes, the China Doll Stakes, and the Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes. Santa Anita announces the following Stakes races have been rescheduled: The Grade I Santa Anita Handicap from March 9 to April 6, the Grade III San Simeon Stakes and Grade I Beholder Mile from March 16 to March 22, the Grade II San Carlos Stakes from March 9 to March 23; the Grade I Kilroe Mile from March 9 to March 30; and the Irish O’Brien Stakes from March 17 to March 31.

Monday March 11 – The main track is opened for joggers and gallopers for the first time in a week after being closed due to extensive testing and dry weather renovation.

Wednesday March 13 – The main track is opened for workers. There were 112 recorded workouts. Trainers applied for another 12 workouts, but the racing office asked the connections of those horses to delay their works. All connections agreed.

Thursday March 14 - Princess Lilli B, a Maiden filly partly owned and trained by David Bernstein, fractures both front legs in a workout on the main track and has to be euthanized. She becomes the 22nd equine fatality at Santa Anita since the meet opened Dec. 26. 

That afternoon, The Stronach Group (TSG), owners of Santa Anita and Golden Gate, publish an open letter on the Santa Anita website stating a “zero tolerance policy” of race-day medication, meaning a ban on the use of Furosemide (more commonly known as Lasix). The letter also states that Santa Anita and Golden Gate would be subject to revisions in policies that include more out-of-competition testing, full transparency of veterinary records, an increase in the time a horse is required to be on-site prior to a race, “substantial investment” by TSG in diagnostic equipment to detect pre-existing conditions, and a change is how whips may be used both in workouts and races.

Friday March 15 – The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office assigns investigators to work with the California Horse Racing Board as examinations are conducted on the horses that have suffered catastrophic injuries during the current Santa Anita meet. The Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and The Stronach Group fail to reach an agreement regarding the use of Lasix, making the resumption of racing on March 22 doubtful. Entries were scheduled to be taken on this date for Golden Gate for Thursday March 21 but those entries were not taken.

Saturday March 16 – Entries were scheduled to be taken for Golden Gate for Friday March 22 but those entries were not taken. It is announced approximately 140 horses have been booked on flights to the Midwest on Tuesday.

An agreement is reached by the TOC and TSG regarding Lasix. The foal crop of 2018 will be the first crop required to race Lasix-free. The current maximum allowable level of Lasix on race day is reduced from 10cc to 5cc.

It is announced Saturday afternoon that racing will resume at Santa Anita on Friday March 22, but that announcement is revised Saturday evening with a start-up date of Friday March 29 because the state requires a 10-day approval process. 

Sunday March 17 – Golden Gate entries for Thursday March 21 are drawn. Santa Anita rescheduled the following Stakes: The Grade II San Luis Rey from March 23 to March 29; The Grade I Beholder Mile and Grade II San Carlos from March 23 to March 30; The Grade III San Simeon Stakes from March 22 to March 30; The Sensational Star Stakes from March 24 to March 31. Reduced allowable Lasix levels and revised whip restrictions will be in affect starting March 29 pending approval at the California Horse Racing Board meeting March 28.

Ramifications of rule changes

It is noteworthy that both Del Mar and Los Alamitos announced they would allow race-day Lasix prior to the agreement struck between the TOC and TSG. It is also noteworthy the changes that are so important to The Stronach Group were not immediately put into play at other TSG tracks like Gulfstream Park, Laurel, Portland Meadows, and Pimlico.

Different medication rules from other jurisdictions may make it tougher to entice stables from out of state to come to California. On the other hand, perhaps Euro shippers, who have not had as much of a presence in SoCal in recent years, could find rules that are closer to the rules in Europe appealing as the connections decide where to locate for U.S. racing.

There will still be horses leaving California this week as Keeneland gets ready to open. But with the announced resumption of racing March 29, that number should be far less than the estimated 140 that were originally set to depart.

One possible solution? Adena Springs, owned by Frank Stronach, is a multiple Eclipse Award winner as leading Breeders in North America. After making no starts at the 2017-2018 Santa Anita winter meet and none so far during the current meet, it would be a welcome addition to the local horse population if Stronach Stables would ship some horses to California to compete at TSG tracks Santa Anita and Golden Gate in support of the new regulations.

The biggest fallout from this prolonged hiatus in racing may be the loss of horseplayers. The stopping and starting of racing in California has forced horseplayers to look at other circuits.

Once those players have completed a learning curve and are familiar with the horses, trainers, and jockeys on different circuits, it may be tough to get them back to playing California, especially if the fields come up light when racing returns.

Smaller fields mean less appealing betting races. Less wagering means smaller purses. Smaller purses will increase the divide between California and states where slots-infused purses continue to grow. Purse differentials may cause more horses to leave, especially during the spring as some of the big stables take horses to the Triple Crown races and the associated major Stakes races carded around the country.

It is a rough cycle right now in California. The absolute most important factor will be safe racing when Santa Anita resumes. The track needs to work with and earn back the trust of the trainers, owners, and fans after what has been a disruptive self-imposed Spring Break. 

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Fair Grounds Saturday Race 10 – Copper Bullet (No. 10). Trainer Steve Asmussen is rolling, and this 4-year-old passed his first two-turn test when beaten just a neck by Dubai-bound Coal Front in the Gr. III Razorback at Oaklawn. He is sitting on a win. 

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