Santa Anita Park sets record safety numbers ahead of horse racing’s new Integrity and Safety Act

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Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, California, home to one of the nation’s largest horse racing training facilities, just hit a major milestone as the sport works to improve safety across the board. The thoroughbred racetrack wrapped up a six-month winter-spring season as the safest track in North America amongst tracks of similar size and scale of operations.

According to numbers from the California Horse Racing Board and track officials, from December 26, 2021, through closing day on June 19, 2022, there were a total of three racing fatalities out of over approximately 4,800 starters at Santa Anita. Additionally, there were no musculoskeletal racing fatalities on the facility’s main dirt track during that period. These numbers are a striking contrast to 2019 when the park came under significant scrutiny after a total of 42 horses died at the facility during a 12-month period.

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Since 2019, Santa Anita officials, and subsequently the CHRB, have made several reforms that will be largely reflected in the bipartisan bill known as the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), which includes racetrack safety measures that will go into effect on July 1, 2022. The act creates a nongovernmental anti-doping and racetrack safety authority to ensure uniformity in the rules of racing across all thoroughbred tracks in the U.S.

For the first time, the entire horse racing community, which lacks an established national governing body, will be held under the same guidelines and standards regardless of the event. It’s a major shift for the sport, one that’s intended to bolster safety and reinforce integrity in the midst of several high-profile doping issues in the past years.

Medication regulations, a drug-testing policy, and anti-doping rules are additional key aspects of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act and are set to go into effect on January 1, 2023.

Kentucky congressman Andy Barr spoke to NBC Sports about the HISA ahead of the 2022 Kentucky Derby, and called it “the most consequential and transformative reform of the thoroughbred racing industry since the Interstate Racing Act of 1978,” referring to the legislation that helped standardize off-track betting in horse racing.

“In order to attract a new generation of fans, we need to ensure safety and integrity,” Barr said. “Whether it’s at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, California, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas… The whole nation will be operating under the same set of rules, and that’s going to lift the entire industry.”