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Animal rights activists unswayed by new racing safety initiatives

Updated November 21, 2019 - 7:50 pm

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.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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