February 24, 2024

Santa Anita aims to resume live racing March 29 after Lasix deal reached

Santa Anita Park (Photo courtesy of Santa Anita Park)

Live racing at Santa Anita is expected to resume March 29 following a compromise on The Stronach Group’s announced ban on Lasix at its California tracks.

Belinda Stronach, President and Chairman of The Stronach Group, unveiled the new policy among a number of initiatives listed in Thursday’s “Open Letter about the Future of Thoroughbred Racing in California.” The changes come in the wake of 22 equine fatalities at Santa Anita since the winter meet opened December 26, a series of tragedies that prompted track officials to close on March 5 until the surface could be rigorously examined. The “Open Letter” also applies to Golden Gate Fields, the other Stronach track in the Golden State.

Santa Anita, Golden Gate, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) on Saturday reached an agreement about how to implement the Lasix ban. Instead of an immediate “zero-tolerance” approach to raceday medication, the ban will be phased in beginning with horses foaled in 2018 – the two-year-olds of 2020 – as stated in a press release.

Lasix will remain permissible at Santa Anita and Golden Gate for horses born in 2017 and earlier, but at half the amount: “following the recommendation of veterinary experts for the best interest of the health of the current horse population, Lasix will still be permitted but at a maximum of 50% of the current levels.”

The press release included a statement from Dionne Benson, DVM, Executive Director and COO of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium (RMTC), explaining the benefit of a transition period:

“Lasix is an efficacious medication for the treatment of Exercised-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) and has been legal in California for almost a generation of trainers. This change will require many trainers to manage their horses without the aid of this medication in racing for the first time ever. In order to ensure this is done properly and thoughtfully, we need to allow time for this adjustment.”

Greg Avioli, President and CEO of TOC, commented:

“We appreciate the willingness of Belinda Stronach of TSG and Jim Cassidy (President of California Thoroughbred Trainers) to negotiate in good faith and reach today’s agreement. I am confident we all share the same goal of making California racing safer and doing everything we can to provide additional safety and protection for our horses.”

California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) Chairman Chuck Winner noted that because of the mandatory 10-day public notice, its forthcoming meeting would be pushed back to March 28:

“I very much appreciate the efforts made by The Stronach Group, the TOC, and the CTT in coming to this agreement, to improve and enhance horse and rider safety. The CHRB will continue to work with the stakeholders as they move forward. I plan to move the previously scheduled March 21st board meeting to March 28th in order for the full board to consider and take action on those items on which CHRB approval is required. March 28th allows for the legally required 10-day public notice.”

That’s also why Santa Anita’s target date to resume live racing, March 22, has likewise been moved another week to March 29 to await the CHRB action.

While the Lasix ban has garnered the most attention, the TOC agreement with Santa Anita and Golden Gate includes other points outlined in the release:

Complete transparency of all veterinary records.

Strict limitations on the use of any pain or anti-inflammatory medication and treatment, including legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.

Trainers must apply for permission to work a horse (a timed, high-speed training exercise) at least 48 hours in advance.

No therapeutic medications of treatments will be allowed without a qualified veterinary diagnosis from a state licensed veterinarian.

Significant and strict Out-of-Competition Testing (OCT).

Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race.

A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.

Santa Anita, Golden Gate and the TOC are also in alliance to change the use of the cushion crop. This evolution of a centuries-old practice will only allow the use of the crop as a corrective safety measure. This new directive has already gone into effect during training hours.

In her statement on the agreement, Belinda Stronach expressed an interest in seeking policy changes at TSG’s tracks outside of California, among them Gulfstream Park, Laurel, and Pimlico:

“This is a complete revision of the current medication policy for Thoroughbred racing. We have worked through the implementation of this groundbreaking model with our stakeholders and the California Horse Racing Board. TSG is committed to the principles of safe horse racing for both equine and human athletes and to making California racing the best in the world. It is my hope the other tracks in California will follow suit. TSG will begin consultation with our stakeholders in other states to put these standards into effect in those jurisdictions, in the best interest of horse racing.”