Santa Anita Park: Breeders’ Cup switch possible after 29 horse deaths at racecourse

Santa Anita racecourse

Organisers of American flat racing’s Breeders’ Cup meeting will discuss a possible switch of the 2019 fixture from Santa Anita, California, after a series of fatal injuries to horses.

Since the winter/spring fixture started at Christmas, 29 horses have lost their lives leading to a call by the California Horse Racing Board to finish the current season two weeks early.

No definitive explanation for the deaths has been found, but animal rights groups have called for the track to be shut down.

Santa Anita’s owner, the Stronach Group, has rejected the board’s request.

It insists that recent rule changes concerning pre-race medication and jockeys’ use of their whips – which it says have led to a marked downturn in “catastrophic” accidents – should be “seen through”.

Racing at Santa Anita is due to take a four-month break on 23 June before resuming in the autumn before the Breeders Cup’ international championships on 2-3 November.

It is believed a move to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is being considered as the only venue with sufficient permanent infrastructure to host the event at short notice.

A statement from the Stronach Group said it had introduced “wide-sweeping and effective” reforms.

“We are collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport – grooms, hot walkers, jockeys, exercise riders, starters, trainers, owners, track managers and every horse wearing a bridle and a saddle – to reform and improve racing every day. After extensive consultation among all partners, Santa Anita Park will stay open through the end of its meet to see these reforms through.

“Track management, owners, trainers and veterinarians, are redoubling their vigilance and close supervision of both training and racing protocols and will consider all enhancements to the sweeping new protocols already introduced.”

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BBC Sport – Horse Racing

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