Horse racing industry leaders launch Thoroughbred Safety Coalition

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Leading horse racing organizations have announced the creation of a new joint effort called the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition. The founding members of the coalition are the Breeders’ Cup Limited, Churchill Downs Inc., the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Keeneland Association Inc., the New York Racing Association Inc. and the Stronach Group.

On Tuesday, the group was formally announced, and founding members laid out several points of reform and safety measures the coalition will be working on. These include more robust rules and regulations on medication and testing, safety and transparency that the coalition has housed under three pillars: medical, operational and organizational. Their 16 points of reform are listed on their website.

The coalition announced medication reforms that increase the withdrawal time for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids, as well as banning bisphosphonates on any horse actively training or racing. The use of multiple NSAIDs and corticosteroids, also known as “stacking,” has also been prohibited.

All three of these substances can act as pain relievers that can mask lameness or other health problems in horses.

Operational reforms include “voided claim” rules that will incentivize owners of horses running in claiming races to put horse safety over profits. In a claiming race, every horse that runs is offered for sale before the race. Under the coalition’s new rule, the sale of a claimed horse that gets injured during the race or is diagnosed as lame by a vet after the race will be voided.

The coalition will also mandate direct daily reporting from vets to regulatory officials, perform random testing outside of competition on any horse actively training or racing and mandate necropsies (autopsies) on all fatally injured or ill horses. The coalition hopes that an increase in necropsies can be used to help identify patterns in racing injuries.

Whips, also called riding crops, have been one of the focuses in the horse safety debate, and the coalition announced they would adopt a uniform crop rule, limiting use and defining specifications. However, no precise limitations or specifications have currently been announced.

Organizationally, the group plans to create an electronic reporting system for vets as well as a centralized database, collect and manage racing surface data, standardize protocols for jockey health and wellness and develop a proficiency system for exercise riders. With an emphasis on increased overall safety, the coalition also outlined plans to create a safety steward position and safety committees at all participating tracks. The proposed committees would include track management, horsemen, jockeys and vet representatives, among others.

Tim Layden: Racing’s turbulent year continues

As of now, the coalition’s power is limited to member organizations—but between these organizations, they control around 85 percent of current stakes races in the country, according to Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Drew Flemming.

“There are certainly challenges before us, and we don’t have all the answers today,” Flemming said. “But today represents a collective commitment and an important step forward. We are confident that the power of us working together will have a ripple effect throughout the sport, and we know we need to get this right.”

This announcement comes at the end of a tough year for horse racing across the country. Santa Anita, owned and managed by the Stronach Group, saw 37 horse deaths in less than 12 months, and other tracks around the U.S. saw multiple horse fatalities. Despite reforms at Santa Anita implemented earlier this year, on November 2, Mongolian Groom fractured his left hind leg during the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita and was humanely euthanized later that night.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

bob baffert

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”

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.”