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.”

War of Will wins the 2019 Preakness Stakes

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War of Will, jockeyed by Tyler Gaffalione and trained by Mark Casse, won the 144th Preakness Stakes after a brief inquiry. This is the first Triple Crown win for both Casse and Gaffalione.

The win comes two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, where War of Will was one of the primary horses Maximum Security impeded during one of the most historic and controversial Kentucky Derby races on record. War of Will, known as “WOW” around the barn, finished 8th at Churchill and was elevated to 7th.

“I’m very happy for the horse, he deserved it more than anything. He’s so special,” said Gaffalione. “It really hasn’t even hit me yet. I can’t even put it into words. I just can’t thank my family enough for their support.”

Jockey John Velazquez was unseated off of Bodexpress out of the gate, and the riderless No. 9 horse continued to run with the pack. Stewards flagged the incident but quickly cleared it and listed him as “did not finish.” Outriders couldn’t attempt to catch him until later in the race because of how close he was running to other horses.

“I’m good,” said Velazquez. “To tell you the truth I’m just disappointed.”

After starting four back from pace-setter Warrior’s Charge, War of Will clung to the rail until sneaking through an opening down the homestretch to take over the lead. Longshot Everfast finished 1 1/4 lengths behind in second, and Owendale took third. Improbable, Bob Baffert‘s morning line favorite jockeyed by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, finished in fourth. Maryland-bred Alwaysmining ran 11th. See the full results here.

War of Will’s win comes just two weeks after one of the most controversial Kentucky Derby races in history. Maximum Security led wire-to-wire but was disqualified 22 minutes after crossing the finish line for impacting the forward progress of several horses, including War of Will and Bodexpress. Track stewards disqualified him, and every horse was moved up one position. Longshot Country House (65-1) finished second and was elevated to first.

For the first time since Grindstone in 1996, the Kentucky Derby winner didn’t run. Country House showed signs of a developing illness and stopped training. Maximum Security was rested after the Derby.

This was also the first time that none of the top-3 Kentucky Derby finishers have run in the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1951.

The Preakness Stakes, raced annually at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, is marked by its shorter distance and smaller field. Run just two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the fast turnaround time can be the biggest challenge for horses who just ran at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

NBC’s coverage of the Triple Crown concludes at Belmont Park for the 151st Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 8 on NBC and the NBC Sports app.

Last year, Baffert’s horse Justify won the 143rd Preakness with Smith en route to win the 2018 Triple Crown. Owned by WinStar Farm, he became the 13th horse to do so and Baffert’s second, just three years after American Pharoah in 2015.

Baffert’s Improbable remains favorite to win the Preakness

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BALTIMORE (AP) Bob Baffert-trained Improbable remains the favorite for the Preakness.

Improbable is 3-1 to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown after being installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite. He was also the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, finished fifth and was placed fourth after Maximum Security was disqualified.

War of Will, who was initially the second choice in wagering at 4-1, was 6-1 as of late Saturday morning. Bourbon War, who didn’t run in the Derby, has been bet down from 12-1 to 9-2.

Last-minute addition Everfast, who opened 50-1, is no longer the longest shot on the board; he is now 22-1. The longest shot now is 26-1 Market King, who is trained by six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas.

Odds will continue to fluctuate until post time at 6:48 p.m.