LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Santa Anita Park said it would ban the use of drugs and whips during competitions after a horse was euthanized on Thursday following an injury during a training run, the 22nd fatality at the famed Southern California track since Christmas.
The restrictions would be the first of their kind in the country and came on the day that federal legislation was reintroduced that would ban race-day medication and increase out-of-competition testing nationwide.
“What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking,” Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of Santa Anita owner the Stronach Group, said in a statement announcing the changes.
“It is unacceptable to the public and, as people who deeply love horses, to everyone at The Stronach Group and Santa Anita,” she said.
“The sport of horse racing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernized. If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards,” she said.
“We are taking a step forward and saying, quite emphatically, that the current system is broken.”
Stronach said the changes would also apply to Golden Gate Fields, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area.
A three-year-old filly named Princess Lili B broke both of her front legs at the end of a half-mile workout and was euthanized on Thursday, according to media reports.
Earlier this month, Santa Anita canceled racing after the 21st fatality and brought in a surface expert to determine what had caused the spike in deaths. The track reopened less than a week later.
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) applauded the announced changes but said horse racing must ultimately “go the way of the animal circus.”
“PETA thanks Santa Anita for standing up to all the trainers, veterinarians, and owners who have used any means — from the whip to the hypodermic syringe — to force injured or unfit horses to run,” the group’s senior vice president Kathy Guillermo said.
“This is a watershed moment for racing, and PETA urges every track to recognize that the future is now and to follow suit.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ken Ferris