California Poised to Step Up Backstretch Surveillance

When the neighborhood 7-11 has a better security set-up than a major racetrack, it presents a big problem.

John Harris, a member of the California Horse Racing Board, said he's troubled by the lack of video surveillance on the state's backstretches, and that it's time something was done about it.

At a recent CHRB meeting, he suggested that camera patrol of barn areas become a required security function for all tracks that apply for racing licenses. Meanwhile, Jack Liebau, director of California racing for Magna Entertainment Corp., said Santa Anita Park, Bay Meadows, and Golden Gate Fields are responding affirmatively.

"Racing has lagged after other industries in the area of video surveillance," said Harris, one of the most influential owner/breeders in the state. "It bothers me that a convenience store in El Monte has a better security system than most tracks, where we have horses worth millions of dollars being kept. The backside of a track is a perfect opportunity for questionable activity.

"I don't want to come across as saying we have a bunch of crooks running around on the backstretches. But the idea is to make sure we have a level playing field, and it would help to a have a video record of whose coming and going."

Harris noted it is the responsibility of tracks, not the CHRB, to provide stable security. The CHRB employs investigators where it can, he said, but such assistance is too thin to provide any preemptive support. He believes the presence of cameras could do that.

"At the very least, there should be cameras in the areas where people are coming in and out (of the stable areas) to protect the integrity of the gate," he said.

Video records could also be of assistance in gathering evidence in cases of horses that test positive for illegal substances, Harris said. Liebau agreed.

"We have been talking to different manufacturers to see which one has the better mousetrap," Liebau said. "Hopefully, we can come up with something that is reasonable both in terms of surveillance and cost. But there is no question that you will be seeing more surveillance cameras on the backsides of California racetracks."

Liebau likened presence of cameras to the difference between a California Highway Patrol car traveling in traffic as opposed to parked off the road.

"Everyone is going to be a lot more careful, and there's going to be less traffic in and around the stalls of horses that are going to be running," Liebau said.

Harris said the state's leading veterinarians would like to see improvements in video security as well.

"It would certainly be helpful," said Dr. Gregory Ferraro, director of the University of California-Davis Center for Equine Health and a past vice chairman of the CHRB medication committee. "You can't detect everything with medication testing. They are used in detention stalls, and it is amazing what those little cameras can uncover."

Harris also told the CHRB he'd like to see tracks make better use of video cameras on the track to eliminate blind spots and provide head-on shots to make it easier for stewards to their jobs.