CHRB Decides Not to Enforce Toe Grab Rule

CHRB Decides Not to Enforce Toe Grab Rule
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A long-running controversy over toe grabs before the California Horse Racing Board could turn into a referendum on trainer authority.

Responding to some conditioner complaints, a majority of the CHRB voted against enforcing a regulation that outlawed toe grabs longer than four millimeters on front shoes.

The unusual vote, taken at the board’s Jan. 23 meeting in Arcadia, ired longtime commissioner John Harris, who has campaigned for safer horseshoes for several years.

“I feel this creates a terrible precedent and may well damage the safety of horses and jockeys,” Harris said. “I am terribly disheartened.”

Harris, along with commissioners Marie Moretti and William Bianco, voted to support enforcement of the regulation, which the CHRB originally approved more than a year ago. But chairman Richard Shapiro and commissioners Jerry Moss, John Amerman, and John Andreini turned thumbs down.

Their action came after testimony by John Shirreffs, who trains horses for Moss and Shapiro.

“Trainers should have the right to decide what shoes their horses wear,” Shirreffs said. “I don’t know any trainers who would put a shoe on a horse that would hurt it.”

Ed Halpern, executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers, said trainers opposed the rule’s enforcement. “The original study was done on dirt, not synthetic tracks,” he said. “It raises all sorts of questions for me.”

Trainers challenged the study’s validity because it was completed before the installation of Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track and had no figures reflecting the use of toe grabs on synthetic surfaces. The CHRB has mandated that all major Thoroughbred tracks in the state replace their dirt ovals with synthetic surfaces by the end of this year.

UC Davis research, including an extensive study led by Dr. Sue Stover, prompted the CHRB to prohibit long toe grabs. Following initial findings through the CHRB’s postmortem program, a major research project confirmed that one millimeter could make a huge difference.

“We spent three years, looked at the shoes of hundreds of healthy horses before races and found a definite connection,” explained Dr. Gregory Ferraro, director of UCD’s Center for Equine Health. “Up to four millimeters, they were OK. But above that (length), could have devastating consequences.”    

Dr. Rick Arthur, the CHRB’s equine medical director, also was alarmed by the board’s action. “No question, regulating toe grabs saves horses’ lives,” he said. “It’s been a black and white issue for 10 years.

“This would have been one of the easiest and cheapest actions the board could have taken to reduce racing fatalities, and it is long over due,” he added.

Arthur pointed out that the Grayson/Jockey Club Racehorse Welfare Summit made the same recommendations as part of its efforts to reduce racing injuries nationwide.

The rule was not enforced over confusion over how to implement it, Arthur added. “Those questions have been answered. The racetracks already regulate horseshoes on turf tracks to protect the grass. The CHRB should be willing to do the same to protect horses.”

Voting to, in effect, allow trainers to ignore state rules could set a dangerous precedent, Harris warned. “It sets a rule that’s not a rule," he said.

“The comment of a few trainers saying that somehow this action infringes on their ‘right to train’ just didn’t resonate with me,” Harris said.  “There are all kinds of things that horsemen have to comply with to compete, and this was a relatively minor one that had true merit.

“We spent thousands on research and had a very detailed report,” Harris added. “I hope this issue will reemerge at the CHRB level, and we can finally get it done.”

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