New California law aimed at reducing horse racing deaths

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The agency overseeing horse racing in California can now immediately suspend licenses to protect the health and safety of horses and riders, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday in response to 30 horse deaths this year at famed Santa Anita Park.

“Business as usual has resulted in too many horse deaths,” Newsom said in a news release announcing that he signed legislation expanding the authority of the California Horse Racing Board. Previous state law limited the board’s authority to suspend racing licenses.

Santa Anita Park finished its season on Sunday, and races are scheduled to resume in September. The track is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup in November, one of the sport’s most prestigious and lucrative events.

The new law expands the board’s authority by allowing it to suspend licenses for safety reasons and to act quickly by calling emergency meetings that do not comply with the state’s open meetings act.

However, the law requires the board to notify the media by telephone at least one hour before an emergency meeting is called.

“The chairman will determine when and if it becomes necessary to call an emergency meeting,” board spokesman Mike Marten said.

The deaths at Santa Anita Park have shocked the industry. The board and the Los Angeles County district attorney have been jointly investigating the deaths since March.

Two weeks ago, Newsom directed the board to adopt new safety standards and a five-member board to review medical, training and racing history of horses. Newsom’s office said 38 horses were scratched or denied entry at Santa Anita Park since then.

The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, also banned Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from the track after four of his horses died.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.

Bob Baffert wins record 16th Del Mar Futurity with Cave Rock

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DEL MAR, Calif. — Cave Rock won the $302,000 Del Mar Futurity by 5 1/4 lengths, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his record 16th victory in the Grade 1 race in which he finished 1-2.

Ridden by Juan Hernandez, Cave Rock ran seven furlongs in a stakes-record time of 1:20.99 on closing day at the seaside track north of San Diego. He lowered the old mark of 1:21.29 set by Declan’s Moon in 2004.

Baffert tied Phil D’Amato for the trainers’ title with 19 wins each at the 31-day summer meet. It was Baffert’s eighth title at Del Mar, but his first since 2003.

Hernandez won the jockeys’ title.

Havnameltdown, also trained by Baffert, finished second in the race for 2-year-olds. Skinner was another 4 1/4 lengths back in third.

Longtime Baffert clients Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman own the first and second-place finishers.

Cave Rock paid $2.80 to win as the 2/5 favorite. He earned $180,000 for the win.