Los Alamitos off probation after new safety plan approved

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LOS ANGELES — Los Alamitos is off probation with the California Horse Racing Board approving its plan to address injuries and deaths at the Orange County track.

The board voted 6-0 remotely on Monday to allow Los Alamitos to continue operating. It had been on a 10-day probation and under threat of losing its license that runs through Dec. 22.

According to the board, 21 horses have died from racing or training at the track in 2020, including 10 since May 26. Two horses died after the board’s emergency meeting on July 10 in which it voted 5-1 to grant probation.

“I can assure you all that we’re kind of humiliated by this whole thing,” track owner Ed Allred told the board. “Things happen in clusters sometimes. We’re going to do everything we possibly can to do things properly in the future.”

The track’s new Safety Enhancement Plan includes: training practices, prerace procedures, a panel to review race entries and post-incident assessments.

One veterinarian will be added to the staff during morning training hours to observe horses as they enter and exit the track. The track will appoint a so-called safety steward to patrol the stable area to observe veterinarians and barn personnel daily. Similar measures are already in effect at Del Mar, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.

Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the board, said he doesn’t see an issue with the track surface.

“What I do see are questionable training and horse management practices and questionable veterinary practices,” he said.

He referred specifically to multiple and repeated intra-articular joint injections “often without diagnostic procedures.” Those inject a solution directly into a horse’s joint, which maximizes the effect of the medication by putting it exactly where it’s needed. The risks include infection, further damage to the joint and even laminitis, a potentially life-threatening affliction in a horse’s hoof.

Arthur said he met with vets at Los Alamitos recently and “made it clear that if veterinary practice did not change I would not hesitate to recommend to this board even more restrictive protocols.”

Before its vote, the board questioned whether a culture change was needed at the track.

“I will assure you that Dr. Allred leads the culture there and certainly by establishing this, trainers are going to have to explain to him if there is an accident or a fatality,” Arthur said.

“We want to give the track at Los Alamitos the backbone to crack down,” said Commissioner Wendy Mitchell, who was the lone dissenter in voting against probation.

Los Alamitos was the only track in California allowed to continue operating during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. It runs night racing Friday through Sunday featuring mostly quarter horses with some thoroughbred racing mixed in.

The meet from June 26-July 5, which featured strictly thoroughbreds, did not have any fatalities, the board said. The track has about 750 quarter horses and 750 thoroughbreds stabled on the grounds at any given time.

“Dr. Allred, you have stepped up and you’ve raised the bar. That’s what I wanted to see,” Commissioner Dennis Alfieri said. “We’re going to be watching this very closely.”

Representatives of the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California reviewed the plan and said they approved.

New CHRB executive director Scott Cheney, who is not part of the six-member board, called for the July 10 emergency meeting. It was the first one held since the board was authorized by the state Legislature last year to stop racing at a track if it found it necessary. The expanded powers came after a sharp increase in horse deaths at Santa Anita.

Animal activists spoke out against Los Alamitos and urged the board to shut down racing in California during the 30-minute public comment period.

Trainer Jenine Sahadi said she had complete confidence in the track’s changes.

“California has made tremendous strides and every day we are striving to do better,” she said before calling out the activists for their “level of ignorance” in veterinary and racing matters.

Board chairman Greg Ferraro told Allred the changes are “very pleasing.”

“You can be assured we’ll be watching your improvement as it goes along,” he said.

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

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Churchill Downs will suspend racing on Wednesday and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance


NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.