'Safety Steward' Position Called Valuable

Former rider Luis Juaregui handles the duties at Southern California racetracks.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance considers the presence of a “safety steward” at Southern California a superior best practice, but whether others create such a position depends on financial resources.

Luis Juaregui, a retired jockey who became a steward in California in 2006, serves as the safety steward, a position paid for by the California Horse Racing Board, a state agency. California law calls for the hiring of a steward to oversee compliance with safety standards.

Juaregui outlined his responsibilities Oct. 19 on the second and final day of a professional education seminar offered by the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. His duties are closely aligned with the alliance code of standards, which has been adopted by alliance-accredited tracks in Southern California.

“This (position) can help every racing commission,” Juaregui said. “I know there are budget cuts (around the country), but it’s important. It’s a good program for young stewards in all jurisdictions.

“The idea is to preserve and improve the horse population. We need to protect these animals as much as we can.”

The safety steward monitors barn area activities, makes sure medication rules are followed, provides leads or tips to the stewards, and reviews films with apprentice jockeys. Other duties are making safety checks during training hours, assisting with barn inspections, investigating all equine fatalities, gathering data on racing surfaces, and developing relationships with backstretch workers.

Juaregui’s job spans training and racing hours.

“If you’re sitting in an office, you’re not doing the job,” Juaregui said. “You have to be out there and show yourself.”

Alliance executive director Mike Ziegler called the hiring of a safety steward a “big-time best practice” for others to follow. He said, however, the alliance isn’t currently lobbying regulatory agencies to create the position.

“When we go to the California tracks, the first person we go to is Luis,” Ziegler said. “We don’t (push other jurisdictions) but we do talk about what they do in California. I think it’s pretty far down the line before (the alliance) asks someone to have a safety steward, but we do share information on what he does.”

The second professional education seminar offered by the alliance included programs for stewards and veterinarians. A day and a half was devoted to the aftercare of retired racehorses.