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


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.”

Irad Ortiz sets single-season record with 77th stakes win

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NEW YORK – Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. earned his record 77th single-season North American stakes victory on Saturday when he guided Dr B to victory in the $200,000 Go for Wand at Aqueduct.

The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico broke the old mark of 76 set by the late Hall of Fame rider Garrett Gomez in 2007.

“This is great. Amazing feeling,” said Ortiz, Jr., who won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey from 2018-20. “Gomez did it in 2007 and he was a great rider, one of the best in the game. I’m so happy just to be a part of this. I love this sport.”

Ortiz Jr. won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal in June to go with Breeders’ Cup victories in the Juvenile, Filly & Mare Sprint and Sprint. He also earned nine other Grade 1 wins in New York, including Life Is Good in the Woodward and Whitney and Nest in the Alabama and Coaching Club Oaks. He won riding titles at Belmont’s spring-summer meet and Saratoga’s summer meet.

Ortiz Jr. leads North American riders with 304 overall victories this year. His purse earnings totaled over $35.8 million going into Saturday’s races, which already surpassed his single-season record of $34.1 million in 2019.

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”