The California Horse Racing Board took a swing at a number of equine safety measures during its April 28 meeting at Hollywood Park, including another try at a rule to void the claim of a horse that suffers a fatality during the race.
The CHRB last tried to pass such a rule in November 2009 but withdrew it after a 45-day comment period due to strong opposition from the state's horsemen.
The debate was spirited once again as the board approved the revised rule for the comment period by a 6-0 vote. Commissioner Jerry Moss abstained. The issue is likely to be taken up again in June.
The proposal would void a claim if the tagged horse suffers a fatality during the running of the race or before returning to be unsaddled. The proposal would also allow a claim to be voided if the horse is placed on the veterinarian's list as unsound or lame as a result of running in the race. The party claiming the horse would have the option of asking the stewards to cancel the sale.
Commissioner Bo Derek said she thinks some trainers would drop a horse to a low level "in hopes of getting rid of an unsound" animal.
"I believe we've had some fatal breakdowns that could have been avoided had this rule been in place," said Derek, who chairs the CHRB's Medication and track Safety Committee.
Dr. Rick Arthur, CHRB equine medical director, said California would be the first state to have such a rule. He said it would not only protect horses but also the betting public.
John Sadler, president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, took strong exception to the assumption that certain trainers would dump an unsound horse.
"I really resent the tone in here that trainers are trying to drop horses, get them hurt, and get them off their hands. To stereotype horse trainers as butchers is unfair. We need to work on this and come up with something that everyone can agree on."
Commissioner John Harris said that was the purpose of the 45-day public comment period.
"If we can do something to save a few horses along the way, we should," he said. "I don't think we're pointing a finger at anybody."
If approved in June, the rule could take effect in late summer or early fall, Arthur said.
During the four-hour meeting, the board approved a proposal to expend $950,000 for a more extensive racetrack safety and equine injury prevention program to be operated in conjunction with the necropsy program at University of California-Davis and the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory.
The money would come from other parts of the CHRB budget, according to executive director Kirk Breed, and would not require additional funding. The program is to be part of an ongoing study under the direction of Dr. Sue Stover, who directs the necropsy program at Davis.
Stover, an internationally recognized expert in the field of racehorse injuries, said the goals of the program would be to determine the reasons for death and injuries among racehorses and to share that information with the racing industry to develop prevention strategies.
In a related matter, the board also approved for a 45-day public comment a rule that would require veterinarians to provide six months of prior medical records on deceased horses for use in postmortem examinations. Arthur said the information would be kept confidential.
In addition, the board approved $250,000 for a contract with the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory directed by Dr. Mick Peterson to conduct scientific surface material studies of California racetracks. The contract runs through June 30, 2013.
The board gave consent to the CHRB's participation in the the Association of Racing Commissioners International's five-year plan to eliminate drugs in horse racing.
And it gave final passage to a rule giving the board the right to suspend authorized use of a specified approved medication at a racetrack when it is found there is a repeated abuse of rules.