Report: No illegal meds in deaths of horses at Santa Anita

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LOS ANGELES — A report released Tuesday by the California Horse Racing Board on a spate of horse deaths at Santa Anita found that no illegal medications were used on the animals and 39% percent of the 23 fatalities occurred on surfaces affected by wet weather.

The long-awaited report focused on 23 deaths as a result of racing or training between Dec. 30, 2018, and March 31, 2019. The fatalities roiled the industry and led track owner The Stronach Group to institute several reforms involving safety and medication.

The report found that 19 of 22 horses’ catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries (CMI) included proximal sesamoid bone fractures, which are related to racing and training intensity. Twenty-one of those 22 cases showed “evidence of pre-existing pathology” that is presumed to be associated with high exercise intensity, which predisposes horses with CMI to catastrophic injury.

Other key findings in the report were that several trainers said they felt pressured to run their horses, although “none blamed the track itself for any fatality,” and there was no evidence of animal welfare violations.

Seven more fatalities at Santa Anita from April 1 through June 23, 2019, were not included in the report.

Among the recommendations in the 77-page report are to establish strict criteria for canceling racing based on weather; to require continuing education for trainers; and to seek industry support for research into sesamoid bone and fetlock injuries, which caused the majority of the fatalities.

The report details all 23 horses’ cases, with notes about their veterinarian history and a list of possible contributing factors. The names of horses, trainers, owners, jockeys and veterinarians were withheld because investigative reports, vet reports and necropsy reports are confidential under California law.

The report said seven complaints will be filed alleging violation of failure to turn in daily vet reports, and three complaints will be filed alleging training without a proper license.

The racing board said it issued more than 70 subpoenas to trainers and vets for documents, while over 100 interviews with trainers, jockeys and vets were conducted.

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

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.