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.