Efforts to improve safety of racehorses are gaining momentum, but there is no indication that the new measures will assuage animal rights activists who insist that horse racing has no place on the sporting landscape.
Further evidence that the outcry over horse deaths at Santa Anita Park and Del Mar is being heard far outside California came this week with the announcement of the creation of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition.
The initiative was announced by the Breeders’ Cup and major U.S. racetrack owners — Keeneland Association Inc., the New York Racing Association Inc., Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and The Stronach Group.
The group’s stated goal is “to unify and enhance existing protections and work together to develop new reforms to ensure the safety of the sport’s equine and human athletes.” It aims to accomplish that by adopting best practices and stricter guidelines for allowable medications, enacting uniform standards for riding crop use, encouraging greater transparency and tracking of veterinarian exam records, and committing to the creation of new positions to implement and enforce the reforms.
“With this coalition, nothing is off the table,” Breeders’ Cup president Drew Fleming told me this week. “We are interested in immediate change and immediate positive reforms.”
The formation of the new group drew statements of support from other racing groups, including the Jockey Club and the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. That’s no small feat, given that disputes among various industry players have stalled efforts to pass the Horse Racing Integrity Act, which is currently awaiting congressional action.
Racing fans and horse lovers of all stripes can thank animal rights activists for spurring the industry to act on something it should have addressed long ago. But as a testy meeting Thursday of the California Horse Racing Board demonstrated, they aren’t satisfied with a safer sport. They want it gone.
“Santa Anita has proven time and time again that they cannot keep horses safe,” one speaker said at the meeting, during which board members conditionally approved Santa Anita’s traditional winter meeting starting Dec. 26. “… There is no turning back the clock for this archaic so-called sport. You are beating a dead horse.”
That and other comments at the meeting lay bare the long-term goal here, which is an outright ban of the sport. And given the attention their PR war has gotten, that doesn’t seem anywhere near as unlikely as it did at this time last year before Santa Anita’s disastrous winter meet began.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers are returning to Aqueduct this weekend for the $200,000 Red Smith Stakes, a Grade 3 race for 3-year-olds and up contested at 1⅜ths mile on the turf, and the 10th race at Woodbine, a 6-furlong allowance/optional claiming race run over the Ontario oval’s synthetic track.
In the former, the crew is solidly behind the classy 8-5 morning line favorite, Sadler’s Joy, figuring the drop in class will enable the 6-year-old to notch his first victory since March 2018. They have Nakamua (10-1) and Marzo (10-1) filling out the trifecta.
I agree that Sadler’s Joy figures in the thick of things, but I’ll go with Marzo on top. The Mike Maker-trained 4-year-old is sharp and improving and attracts Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride. I’ll use Petit Fils (8-1) to place and Sadler’s Joy to show.
In the great betting race at Woodbine, the crowd ’cappers are going out on a limb and backing West L.A. Girl, 8-1 on the morning line, followed by Hell N Wild (4-1) and Tiz Breathtaking (20-1).
I can’t quarrel with those picks, but I’ll go with Sanity (20-1), who had to alter course in the stretch in her last and is reunited with jockey Patrick Husbands. I have 3-1 morning line favorite Foxxy Belle and Charmaine’s Mia (10-1) filling out my top three.
Ellis Starr’s Red Smith Stakes analysis
In this year’s Red Smith, one of the things which appears certain is a contested pace scenario, as Tiz a Slam and Glorious Empire (IRE) have earned nearly all their wins when leading from the start. European import Petit Fils (FR) shows the comment line “straight to lead” in two of his most recent races as well. With that in mind, the horses which can stalk the pace in third through fifth appear to have the best chance to succeed.
Marzo tops that list. He was claimed by trainer Mike Maker for $62,500 in August and two races later won the Sycamore Stakes at the marathon distance of 1 1/2 miles on turf. Maker, who has a knack for finding horses who can become stakes winners in long races on grass, appears to have found another gem as Marzo earned a career best 109 Equibase Speed Figure off the claim when beaten a neck before earning a 106 figure in the Sycamore. Answering the question as to whether Marzo can run another “A” race good enough to win the Red Smith, a STATS Race Lens query on Maker’s record with horses having won back-to-back in stakes races reveals Maker has a 10-for-42 record over the past five years, which suggests Marzo can win his second grade 3 stakes race in a row.
Red Knight is proven in stakes and in marathon races like the 11 furlong Red Smith. A winner of seven of 14 career turf races, Red Knight won the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes last December at the distance of two miles and in his most recent race he won the Point of Entry Stakes at a mile and one-half. Earning a 110 figure in the Point of Entry, Red Knight matches up nicely with the best in the Red Smith field and appears to be a strong contender to win.
On Class alone, Sadler’s Joy must be respected. Although having won just one race in 11 starts in 2018 and 2019 combined, Sadler’s Joy faces easier than in his last two races when beaten a neck in the Sword Dancer Stakes with a 113 figure and when beaten a half-length in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes with a 117 figure. Other than the class drop, Sadler’s Joy has one more factor in his favor and that is he won his only previous try at this mile and three-eighths distance on the Aqueduct turf, back in November, 2016.
The rest of the Red Smith field (excluding the horses entered for the main track only), with their best Equibase Figures in representative races: Dot Matrix (105), Glorious Empire (IRE) (118), Have At It (112), Mokheef (95), Nakamura (110), Postulation (112), Petit Fils (FR) (112), Red Right Hand (108) and Zumurdee (112).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.