Santa Anita imposing new safety, welfare rules for horses

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita will impose new rules to scrutinize horses training on its racetrack and add a director of equine welfare following the deaths of 21 horses since Dec. 26.

The main dirt track and turf courses were in a third day of examination Saturday in an effort to uncover what may have led to the series of catastrophic breakdowns. The racetrack remains closed indefinitely for racing.

The inner training track, which has not had any breakdowns, was open for horses to jog and gallop only for the second straight day.

It was supposed to be a huge day of racing Saturday at the historic track. But the San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls and the Santa Anita Handicap for older horses were scuttled when the track was closed on Tuesday.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, said the new safety and welfare measures will take effect when racing resumes in the coming weeks.

The new rules announced by Santa Anita’s owner TSG include requiring trainers to apply to hold timed workouts for their horses at least 24 hours in advance. Officials believe that will give track veterinarians time to identify potential at-risk horses through their past performances, workout date and physical inspection.

TSG says it has hired extra vets to observe all horses entering and exiting the dirt and turf course during morning training hours.

The morning training schedule will change, too.

The first 15 minutes of training after the dirt track opens, and each time its surface is renovated, will be reserved for horses completing official timed workouts. Officials say it will reduce the number of horses on the track at the same time and create a safer environment.

TSG plans to hire an accredited vet as the new director of equine welfare. That person will lead a rapid response team for injuries and conduct transparent investigations into the injury while communicating the findings to the racing and general public.

Santa Anita will require veterinary records of a horse to follow that animal through any ownership or trainer change. A similar rule is in effect at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, which is also owned by TSG.

“This has worked very well at Gulfstream Park,” Ritvo said. “There was some pushback from the trainers at first, but this is the best thing for the horse.”

Ritvo said TSG will invest in any new technology or equipment that will help discover pre-existing injuries in horses.

Santa Anita is expected to retain the services of Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky and veteran track superintendent Dennis Moore, who are reviewing the dirt and turf courses.

“We’re looking forward to returning to normal,” Ritvo said, “but it will be a new normal.”

Pegasus races planned for Gulfstream and Santa Anita in 2024

Horse racing on Opening day of the winter-spring meet at Santa Anita Park.
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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – After seven Pegasus World Cup events, it’s evidently time for change.

1/ST Racing, which has hosted the entirety of the Pegasus series to this point at Gulfstream Park, is planning for two Pegasus days in 2024 – one at Gulfstream and the other at Santa Anita. Details aren’t finalized and it’s unclear how it would fit in the racing calendar, but 1/ST is planning for both dirt and turf Pegasus races as part of the Santa Anita program.

Gulfstream played host to the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on the dirt Saturday, along with the $1 million Pegasus Turf and the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf.

“I’d really love to see that we bring it to the West Coast,” 1/ST President and CEO Belinda Stronach said. “That will probably happen in 2024. What we did this year for 2023 was said, `OK, we have a number of great race days, let’s coordinate those better and call it the 1/ST Racing Tour and recognize great achievements within our own footprint.”

Saturday marked the first stop on that new 1/ST Racing Tour. Along with some of the biggest race days at 1/ST tracks – like Florida Derby day at Gulfstream on April 1, Santa Anita Derby day on April 8 and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 20 – there are a pair of days where the tour will be running simultaneously.

This coming Saturday, Gulfstream will play host to the Holy Bull while Santa Anita has the Robert B. Lewis – both of them Kentucky Derby prep races.

And on March 4, Gulfstream has the Fountain of Youth, another major Derby prep, while San Anita has the Big Cap. Plans call for coordinated post times at those two tracks on those days to provide the best racing action every 20 minutes, as well as some unique betting options.

“We can never rest on our laurels,” Stronach said. “We have to keep moving forward. We have a great team that’s really committed.”

The main Pegasus race is one of the biggest-paying races in North America. Art Collector claimed about $1.8 million from a $3 million purse with his win on Saturday. In 2022, only the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic and $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf featured bigger prizes among U.S. races, and the $3 million Pegasus purse is equal to the one offered last year at the Kentucky Derby.

Regardless of what happens with the Santa Anita plan for future Pegasus events, Stronach insisted Gulfstream will continue having Pegasus days. There has even been talk about Gulfstream playing host to Breeders’ Cup races again, something that hasn’t happened since 1999.

“This is staying here in Miami,” Stronach said. “Pegasus has a home here in Miami. We can’t move Pegasus from Miami. We have great partners here and it’s more than just a day now. We have deep roots here in Miami.”

Arabian Knight earns Baffert record 6th win in Southwest

Betway Challow Hurdle Day - Newbury Racecourse
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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Arabian Knight won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths at Oaklawn, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record sixth victory in the race.

The colt came into the Kentucky Derby prep as one of the most highly touted 3-year-olds in the country. Arabian Knight, who was purchased for $2.3 million as a 2-year-old, was making his second career start and first on a sloppy track in front of 27,000 fans in Arkansas.

“These good horses are hard to come by,” said Baffert, who was on hand in Hot Springs. “We’ve had a lot of luck here at Oaklawn, so it was nice to have a horse like this.”

However, Arabian Knight was ineligible to earn the Kentucky Derby qualifying points awarded to the winner because Baffert has been suspended for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The penalty, which ends shortly after this year’s Derby on May 6, stems from Medina Spirit’s medication violation after the colt won the 2021 Derby and was later disqualified. Baffert is challenging the ban in court.

Ridden by John Velazquez, Arabian Knight ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:43.50 and paid $2.80 to win. He is 2-0 and has career earnings of $544,275.

“He ran 1:43 and change, that’s racehorse time and he did it without taking a deep breath,” Baffert said. “This was a big effort.”

Red Route One closed from last to finish second, and Frosted Departure was third. Sun Thunder was fourth, followed by Jace’s Road, Corona Bolt, El Tomate and Western Ghent.

At Gulfstream in Florida, Baffert’s entry Defunded finished second in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, beaten by 4 1/2 lengths by Art Collector on Saturday.