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Santa Anita’s new horse safety measures paying off

Updated December 12, 2019 - 6:15 pm

New equine safety measures put in place at Santa Anita Park already have reduced injury rates among horses, and more help has arrived in the form of a new high-tech scanner that can help veterinarians spot dangerous conditions before they cause catastrophic breakdowns.

In a presentation this week at the University of Arizona’s Global Symposium on Racing in Tucson, Dr. Dionne Benson, who was hired as chief veterinary officer at Santa Anita after a surge in the number of horse fatalities early this year, said numerous changes have been put in place, including new medication rules and training and veterinary protocols.

As a result, Benson said, catastrophic injuries have declined 70 percent in races and 65 percent in training. That reduced the catastrophic injury rate at the track to near its historical norm, she said.

The steps taken by The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in California, have had a ripple effect around the industry as other tracks adopt similar measures to stave off the backlash that erupted in California.

For instance, Colonial Downs in Virginia, which reopened this year after a five-year hiatus, experienced no fatalities during its 15-day race meet this summer, Jill Byrne, vice president of racing operations, reported at the symposium.

Meanwhile, Santa Anita’s new standing PET Scan machine has been installed at a backstretch equine hospital operated by the Southern California Equine Foundation in time for the beginning of the track’s winter meet on Dec. 26.

The scanner, the first of its kind in the sport, is capable of identifying pre-existing conditions in the fetlock — the rough equivalent of the human ankle — the most common area for injuries in racehorses.

Welcome to the racing world, St. Lucia

The Caribbean island of St. Lucia will pop onto the global horse racing landscape Friday as the Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club conducts its inaugural five-race program, headlined by the $150,000 Pitons Cup.

The races will be contested by about 40 horses shipped from Florida to Saint Lucia for the day, a necessity since the island in the eastern Caribbean has no established breeding industry.

The feature race, to be run at 1,800 meters (about 9 furlongs), drew 10 runners whose connections paid $20,000 apiece for a spot in the starting gate.

Not sure if the local racebooks will carry these races, but at least I have a new track to add to my “bucket list.”

#RJhorseracing featured races

The #RJhorseracing handicappers are making their first foray to Gulfstream Park in awhile for Saturday’s $100,000 My Charmer Stakes, a mile turf test for fillies and mares, and the $100,000 Rampart Stakes, a mile race for fillies and mares on the main track.

In the former, the crew is solidly backing 9-5 morning line favorite Mitchell Road, figuring the Bill Mott-trained daughter of English Channel will rebound from a disappointing effort in this much easier spot. They like Altea (3-1) to place and Munchkin Money to gallop down the yellow-brick road to show.

This is a tricky race, as Mitchell Road shows a 29-day gap in her workouts before showing up twice recently on the clocker’s tab. Even with Mott calling the shots, that’s enough to send me elsewhere, in this case to Take These Chains (12-1), who raced very wide in a comeback sprint and has been working very well lately for trainer Ben Colebrook. I’ll use Altea and Mitchell Road to fill out my top three.

In the Rampart, the ‘cappers are evenly split among the top three morning-line contenders: Baccarat Fashion (5-2), Cookie Dough (7-2) and Molto Bella (9-2), in that order.

Baccarat Fashion does look tough, but stepping up in class off a lifetime best effort doesn’t make me want to put a bundle on “red.” I’ll take Tweeting (6-1), who ships in off sharp efforts at Delaware and Laurel in her last two starts. I’ll use Molto Bella and Baccarat Fashion to place and show, respectively.

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

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