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Breeders’ Cup to add to safety measures at Santa Anita

July 8, 2019
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FILE - In this June 23, 2019 file photo Eddie Haskell, right, with jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard, win the third race during the last day of the winter/spring meet at the Santa Anita Park race track in Arcadia, Calif. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law, Wednesday June 26,2019 that would give the California Horsing Racing Board the authority to immediately suspend the license of Santa Anita. Thirty horses have died at the track in recent months. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Breeders’ Cup will increase the number of veterinarians on site during its world championships this fall at Santa Anita, where 30 horses died during the racing meet that recently concluded.

That’s according to Craig Fravel, president and chief executive of the Breeders’ Cup, who said reaction to the board of directors’ decision to keep the two-day event at the historic Southern California track has been “very supportive.”

“People had every opportunity to know what the facts are before they decided,” he said by phone Monday while driving from San Diego to Los Angeles. “The fact that it was a unanimous vote is reflective of the sentiment in the room.”

Santa Anita will host for a record 10th time on Nov. 1-2.

Besides the 14 vets on-site during Breeders’ Cup week, there will be 20 on hand during the two days of racing, Fravel said.

“Every horse gets examined two times, probably more,” he said. “We have the strictest medication rules. We’ll be looking at horses throughout the summer and fall before we get to the Breeders’ Cup. We certainly don’t mind people asking those questions.”

The event will be run under the house rules adopted by track owner The Stronach Group to improve safety. Those include a reduction in the use of race-day Lasix, an anti-bleeding medication.

Fravel said there wasn’t one factor that swayed the Breeders’ Cup board to keep the event at Santa Anita.

“We’ve been following the situation since it began to evolve in January, February, March,” he said. “It was a combination of things: medication reforms, track surface improvements and changes in management.”

Belinda Stronach, president and chief executive of TSG, addressed the board at last month’s meeting in Lexington, Kentucky.

Fravel is traveling to Europe next week to meet with racing officials there.

“The Europeans were incredibly supportive,” he said. “I think they believe the problems are being addressed. They have confidence in the Breeders’ Cup team.”

At the same time, Fravel received emails from others who are unhappy about keeping the event at Santa Anita.

“People who have different perspectives have let me know, some more politely than others,” he said. “I certainly understand people’s perspectives on this.”

Racing at Santa Anita resumes Sept. 25.

If more deaths would occur at the track during racing leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, would it still be possible to change locations at the last minute?

“Anything is possible,” Fravel said. “We’re focused on doing the event the best way possible.”

Animal rights activists protested outside the track throughout its winter-spring racing season, toting signs and urging the end of racing in California. It’s possible they’ll make their presence known during Breeders’ Cup as well.

“Plans will be made to allow those people to express themselves,” Fravel said. “We certainly don’t disregard those points of view. The self-examination we’re undergoing is an important part of growing as an industry.”

Fravel said ticket sales are “about on par” with where they were the last time the event visited Santa Anita, in 2016. He said he remains hopeful that organizers will hit their projected sales numbers.

“I’m confident Santa Anita has been through a rough experience,” he said, “and I’m sure they’ve learned a lot of lessons.”

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