ARCADIA (CBSLA) – The owner of Santa Anita Park announced a ban Thursday on medication for horses on days they are scheduled to race following the death of the 22nd horse at the Arcadia track since racing began in December.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, made the announcement during a brief media appearance at the track, where hours earlier a filly named Princess Lili B broke her front legs while doing a half-mile workout on the main track and had to be euthanized.
Twenty-two horses have died while racing or training at Santa Anita since Dec. 26. Live racing has been suspended since March 6 as experts work to determine what could be contributing to the problem. In comparison, during the same period of 2017-18, only 10 horses died at the track. Only eight died in 2016-17 and 14 in 2015-16.
“We have all been devastated by the last few weeks,” Ritvo said. “It has made us all aware of the changes that have to be made. California’s ripe for a change. Today we are announcing a complete transformation of our racetracks in California. Any change is hard, but the love of the horse supersedes all else. We know first-hand that owners, trainers and jockeys love and care deeply for their horses. We, too, love the horses and we’re making these changes to put the health and welfare of the horse and rider first.”
Ritvo wouldn’t elaborate on the new changes and didn’t take questions from reporters. However, in a followup email, the Stronach Group said the ban would entail:
— Banning the use of Lasix.
— Increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.
— Complete transparency of all veterinary records.
— Significantly increasing out-of-competition testing.
— 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.
— Horses in training are only allowed therapeutic medication with a qualified veterinary diagnosis.
The changes apply to all the tracks owned by the Stronach Group, including Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley.
Princess Lili B’s Breeder and owner David Bernstein told CBS2 he named the horse after his granddaughter and has raised it since birth.
“She was just breezing and as she got close to the seven-eighth pole to pull up, she must have taken a funny step, and when she did, why, the ankle kind of broke a little bit, and the other ankle broke because they changed leads again,” Bernstein said.
While Santa Anita Park has remained closed to live racing, both the main and training tracks have been open for horse workouts. Training sessions continued after Princess Lili B was hurt Thursday.
Twenty-two horses have died while racing or training at Santa Anita since Dec. 26. Racing has been suspended since March 6 as experts work to determine what could be contributing to the problem. In comparison, during the same period of 2017-18, only 10 horses died at the track. Only eight died in 2016-17 and 14 in 2015-16.
Santa Anita’s main track — one of three on the grounds that include the training and turf tracks — reopened Monday for workouts, with horses only allowed to jog or gallop. Santa Anita’s training track reopened March 8. The park noted that no horses have sustained any serious injuries on the training track this season.
Bernstein, meanwhile, defended Santa Anita Thursday.
“The track’s excellent, I don’t have any problem with it, didn’t have any problem when they raced on it,” Bernstein told CBS2. “We were just careful when the weather was really bad, we jogged on the training track. We didn’t go out on the main track because it was closed. No, the track was fine.”
Prior to Thursday’s announcement, animal rights group PETA held a silent protest outside the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office in downtown L.A. Thursday asking for a criminal investigation.
The park’s former track superintendent, Dennis Moore, and Dr. Mick Peterson, director of the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Equine Programs, have been jointly examining and monitoring the tracks for the past week. They are looking at whether the heavy rainfall which has fallen across the region over the past few months has factored into the death toll. A Santa Clarita spokesperson told CBS2 that all the inspections determined the tracks to be in good condition.
Racing was also briefly suspended last month. Following the 19th horse death, Santa Anita closed the main track for several days to have Peterson do an evaluation. The main track was closed to live racing from Feb. 25 through Feb. 28, but reopened to live racing on March 1. Since then, three more horses have died.
According to the Times, ten of the deaths have occurred during workouts on the main dirt track, seven have occurred during racing on the main dirt track, and five have occurred on the turf track. None of the deaths have occurred on the training track.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)