The Breeders’ Cup will remain at Santa Anita this fall after 30 horses died during the Southern California track’s recent meet.
The board of directors unanimously decided to keep the two-day world championships at the Arcadia track for a record 10th time on Nov. 1-2. The board announced its decision at a meeting Thursday in Lexington, Kentucky.
Craig Fravel, president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, said in a statement the ownership of Santa Anita and other groups has made “meaningful and effective reforms” in recent months to improve safety.
“We fully embrace those reforms and will devote our time and energy in the coming months to further advance those efforts,” he said. “We look forward to showing the world the best in thoroughbred racing at one of its finest venues.”
The 30 horse deaths occurred during Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet that began Dec. 26 and ended Sunday.
The decision gives a vote of confidence to the historic track and avoids the logistics of moving the richest two-day event in racing on five months’ notice.
“We need it so badly, just for morale,” Bob Baffert, two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer, said last week. “The morale has been so low here.”
The president of The Stronach Group which owns Santa Anita, thanked the Breeders’ Cup board for its support.
“Santa Anita and The Stronach Group remain steadfast in our commitment to put the health and safety of the horses and riders above all else, and we are pleased that the Breeders’ Cup board recognized and shares in that goal,” Belinda Stronach said in a statement.
Racing at Santa Anita is to resume Sept. 27.
The fatalities Anita have raised alarm within California and the rest of the racing industry. Most of the deaths occurred during the winter months when usually arid Santa Anita was hit with record rainfall totaling nearly a foot.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently stepped in to form a panel to evaluate horses’ medical, training and racing histories before they compete. Track and racing board officials implemented several changes involving exams of horses scheduled to train or race.
The racing board also is looking at changes involving jockeys’ use of riding crops in races.
The Stronach Group has moved to reduce the use of anti-bleeding medication Lasix on race days. Going further, there’s been a proposal to eliminate Lasix in 2-year-old horses starting next year.
The Breeders’ Cup requires pre- and post-race testing, including out-of-competition testing, for prohibited substances; 24-hour security for horses starting 72 hours ahead of post time; and periodic inspections and testing of racing surfaces before the event.
In addition to its own rules, the event will include all of the reform measures adopted and implemented in California this year.
Animal rights activists protested outside Santa Anita on and off during the meet to urge an end to horse racing in California and the closure of the track. The decision to keep the Breeders’ Cup in California this year could re-energize them when the international racing community comes to Arcadia.
There had been industry talk of Churchill Downs becoming the host if Santa Anita was dropped. However, 43 horses died at the home of the Kentucky Derby between 2016 and March of this year, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“Who could possibly have thought that it was a good idea to move the Breeders’ Cup from a track that is trying to stop the carnage to one with an even more shameful record of fatalities?” said Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“The Breeders’ Cup board made the right decision. Now it should disallow trainers with multiple medication violations from all races.”
The Stronach Group banned Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California, which it owns, after four of his horses were among the 30 dead.
The Breeders’ Cup, however, controls the entries for its event and would be the final arbiter on Hollendorfer’s participation. The event notably banned California-based trainer Doug O’Neill from entering horses in 2014 after he was suspended and fined by New York racing officials because of a positive drug test by one of his horses.
The Breeders’ Cup features 14 races with purses and awards totaling more than $30 million.