With board members troubled by what they consider to be a high number of equine deaths in Golden Gate Fields, the California Horse Racing Board, at its monthly meeting on December 15, narrowly approved an upcoming six-month license for the Northern California track.
Three commissioners – vice president Oscar Gonzales and board members Wendy Mitchell and Brenda Davis – preferred to give the Northern California track a three-month license followed by a review. In the end, support for the standard six-month license, backed by board members Dennis Alfieri, Damascus Castellanos and Alex Solis and chairman Dr Greg Ferraro, won (vote 4-3) with the promise that the CHRB would revise the track monthly.
According to statistics from the CHRB, nine of the 26 Golden Gate deaths were classified by the CHRB into a category called “other.” Deaths from barn accidents and colic are examples that fall under this classification. The ponies caused three deaths.
Seventeen racehorses have died racing (four) or training (13) at Golden Gate this year, a lower death toll than Santa Anita Park, where 19 horses died from injuries in racing or training. Four of the deaths in Golden Gate occurred in November.
Both tracks are open for training for much of the year and have a high number of race dates compared to other state tracks. Golden Gate has a synthetic Tapeta main track; Santa Anita a dirt surface. The two also organize grass races.
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The CHRB majority voted in favor of granting Golden Gate its standard license, with Ferraro noting that the regulator has the power to stop racing under its current regulations. Commissioners then questioned whether they had the necessary votes to take such action when the CHRB lobbied Los Alamitos Racecourse to improve his equine mortality cases earlier this year. Security numbers at Los Alamitos have since improved.
Gonzalez noted that the Stronach Group, which owns Golden Gate, Santa Anita and other racetracks across the country, chose to suspend races this month to revisit the main track at its Laurier Park property in Maryland following an increase in blackouts.
“So when does a company give California and the public, and races, that same big gesture?” He asked his fellow commissioners.
Alfieri defended the TSG, mentioning that they had suspended the race for a period in Santa Anita after an increase in the number of deaths in 2019.
Ferraro said he, executive director Scott Chaney and equine medical director Dr Jeff Blea were at Golden Gate last week. Later in the meeting, during her report, Blea mentioned the visit to Golden Gate, during which the CHRB attended a mayoralty rider.
“We spoke to the riders about different protocols to help understand why they had an increase in injuries in training and, more importantly, how to reduce the incidence of injuries,” he said.
The CHRB also approved a six-month license to Santa Anita, who submitted an amended application to add races on December 27 and 30, but is relinquishing cards from April 22 to 24 and April 29. The Santa Anita and Golden Gate demands were approved without signing agreements between TSG and California Thoroughbred Trainers. The CHRB applied the earlier agreements.
Also during the meeting, Blea gave an approximate two-month schedule for a full autopsy of Medina Spirit, who died of a suspected heart attack after a workout last week.
Chaney noted in his remarks that the CHRB would soon be joining the Association of Racing Commissioners International. He left ARCI a few years ago “on the basis of philosophical and political differences”, said Chaney, but will return next year “with national horse racing legislation on the horizon”.
He recalled that the CHRB will begin to institute two new rules on January 1: strict regulation of thyroxine, a drug for the thyroid; and a requirement that horses undergo a veterinary health check within 72 hours of training or racing.