Racing group bans drugs at two California tracks

Racing at Santa Anita. 
Racing at Santa Anita. © The Stronach Group

The owner of the Santa Anita racetrack, where more than 20 horses have died in racing or training in recent weeks, has banned doping on its California tracks.

This includes bans at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields on the use of Lasix, NSAIDs,  joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids, and out-of-competition testing will be significantly increased.

The move by The Stronach Group has been spurred by the several horse deaths at Santa Anita and the reintroduction of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, HR 1754 to the US House of Representatives, which aims to create an independent horse racing anti-doping authority to replace the current patchwork of regulatory systems that govern horse racing’s 38 jurisdictions.

President and chairman Belinda Stronach said last week that the Stronach Group had declared a zero tolerance for race day medication at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. “We will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes.”

The tracks will be the first in North America to follow the strict International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) standards.

Golden Gate Fields. 
Golden Gate Fields. © The Stronach Group

Racing was suspended at the Santa Anita track earlier this month following several horse deaths, and Stronach said: “We are taking a step forward and saying, quite emphatically, that the current system is broken. While the cause of the injuries on the racetrack might be varied, they have one thing in common: the industry has yet to do everything that can be done to prevent them. That changes today.”

Stronach described the changes as “a watershed moment”.

“The Stronach Group has long been a strong advocate for the abolishment of race-day medication, but we will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes. Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognize just how disruptive this might be.

The group is also addressing growing concern about whipping, and are introducing “cushion crops”.

“While we firmly believe our jockeys have not purposely been mistreating their mounts, it is time to make this change,” Stronach said.

The Stronach Group Chief Operation Officer Tim Ritvo said: “The time has come for this industry to evolve. It must do so for the sake of the horses and the people who depend on this sport for their livelihoods. Moving to international standards will help to set the right foundation for racing and fairness. We love the sport of horse racing and want it to succeed today, tomorrow and long into the future.”

Santa Anita.
Santa Anita. © The Stronach Group

Stronach also declared support for horses who will not be able to race because they have required medication to do so. “For those horses, we are prepared to dedicate the capital required to rehabilitate, retrain, rehome and provide aftercare for them. They deserve nothing less.”

Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) chairman Louis Romanet said he was in “complete support” of The Stronach Group’s moves to bring its medication policies in line with international standards, and called on other jurisdictions and race organizers in the United States “to adopt stringent medication principles”.

The Water Hay Oats Alliance, a group advocating for federal legislation to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport of horse racing, commended Stronach. “The Stronach Group’s stand at their California tracks could cause the first domino to fall. It is WHOA’s hope that this will be the beginning of a bigger, broader industry shift toward meaningful medication reform in the US.”

The Stronach Group’s brands include the Maryland Jockey Club (Pimlico and Laurel Park); Gulfstream Park in Florida; Portland Meadows in Oregon; and the Rosecroft harness racing track in Maryland.

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