LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California Horse Racing Board will weigh new safety and medication rules Thursday in the wake of 22 horse deaths at Santa Anita.
The board is meeting at the track northeast of Los Angeles to consider whether to ban medication and whips on racing days, among other changes. If approved, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California would become the first racetracks in the nation to impose such restrictions.
Santa Anita agreed to make the changes after 22 horses suffered fatal injuries at the track in less than three months, angering animal rights groups, prompting protests and leading to the suspension of racing since March 5.
Racing is expected to resume Friday pending the board’s votes on a number of key issues, including phasing out a medication known as Lasix, already banned on race days in every country but the U.S. and Canada.
While many American horse trainers say Lasix is a vital anti-bleeding medication that keeps horses safe, animal-rights activists say it amounts to a performance-enhancing drug and that most tracks in the world do fine without.
Also up for discussion at the board meeting will be limiting the use of riding crops, a move controversial among many jockeys and owners who argue that they help keep horses safe during races.
In a statement earlier this month, Santa Anita’s owner said “the current system is broken.”
“The sport of horse racing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernized,” Belinda Stronach, president of The Stronach Group, said in a statement. “If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards.”
The track’s efforts in the wake of the horse deaths have garnered praise from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has urged other tracks throughout the country to take the same measures as Santa Anita.
“The only positive in this is it happened at a track where the owners were willing to see what they could do to prevent it,” said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s senior vice president.
She said she planned to attend the racing board’s meeting and hopes its members approve all of the Santa Anita’s proposed changes.
“These new rules are the most progressive actions to help horses in a generation,” she said. “I’m very eager to see what happens.”