Gov. Newsom signs bill allowing state board to suspend horse racing at tracks

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Days after Santa Anita concluded a racing meet marred by the deaths of 30 horses, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Wednesday giving the California Horse Racing Board authority to suspend racing at a track to protect horses or riders.

The new legislation, SB 469, allows the board to suspend racing licenses "when necessary to protect the health and safety of horses and riders." The board could previously recommend a suspension of racing, but the track owner would have to consent to the move.

"This problem demands deeper partnership between the CHRB and track officials," Newsom said. "I call on race tracks around the state to hold themselves to the higher screening standards recently adopted at Santa Anita. This model can save horses lives."

In San Diego County, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club says they support the new legislation. CEO Joe Harper explained that the decision means races can be stopped without a 10-day public notice.

Opening Day at Del Mar is just weeks away. FOX 5 asked Harper if the new law could impact races locally.

“Hopefully this won’t affect Del Mar because hopefully there will be no need for us to shut down. We’ve had a very good two years, and one of the safest tracks in North America, if not the safest,” Harper said.

Harper said after a rough year a few years back, they made changes. He said they spent a couple million dollars to redo the track, brought on more veterinarians and delayed the races to make sure the horses were ready to go.

“After we did that, there was a 70-percent reduction in fatal injuries,” Harper said.

Harper said even more measures are being taken this year.

“We’re adding more vets. We have a committee that overlooks every single entry that’s made into a race,” Harper said. “If there is a good thing to come of this, it is an awareness that this industry, if it’s going to survive, has to deal with these issues."

Racing was halted at Santa Anita for most of March while examinations were conducted on the track. Races resumed April 4 after the state horse racing board approved a series of safety measures, and Santa Anita officials announced a series of new measures to help bolster the safety of horses at the track.

The new rules include restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get permission in advance before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre- existing conditions.

On June 9, responding to the 28th death of the season, the CHRB recommended the facility suspend racing for its final two weekends.

Track officials declined, but -- at the recommendation of Newsom -- Santa Anita and the CHRB announced the creation of a safety review team to evaluate horses and determine if they would be at risk by racing. The panel, made up of veterinarians and stewards, reviewed the fitness of horses and had the authority to scratch horses from races if there any health concerns.

According to the CHRB, the panel scratched or refused entry to 38 horses in races during the final two weekends of racing at Santa Anita.

In addition to signing the legislation, Newsom on Wednesday also appointed veterinarian Gregory Ferraro to the CHRB. Ferraro, 73, was the director of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Center for Equine Health from 1997-2014. His appointment requires confirmation from the state Senate.

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