DEL MAR, Calif. — The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club announced new and enhanced safety protocols for horses and jockeys Tuesday which will be in effect for the Del Mar race track’s 80th racing season which begins July 17.
The initiatives include a mandate for a five-person review panel to analyze each horse’s racing, medical and training history to ensure each horse is safe to race and a ban on the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication fewer than 48 hours before a race or a workout. Previously, NSAIDs were allowed up to 24 hours before a race or workout.
The approximately 1,850 horses stabled at Del Mar will also be subject to increased random testing and analysis, veterinary observation and stable security measures to make sure horses are jockeys are following track rules.
Riding crops will be prohibited during morning workouts and could be restricted further as the track continues consulting with the California Horse Racing Board and the Jockey’s Guild.
In addition to its enhanced safety protocols, the DMTC announced the creation of an advisory committee of trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, racing surface maintenance experts and track management to continually discuss how to make Del Mar as safe as possible.
“Del Mar continues to strive to provide the safest environment possible for our equine and human athletes for both racing and training,” said DMTC CEO Joe Harper.
“We have a responsibility to implement the best practices for safety and welfare and the further responsibility to educate the public about these practices and about the extraordinary levels of care provided to our equine athletes.”
The club announced the increased safety measures at a time when horse racing is under unprecedented criticism from animal rights activists. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill last week allowing the CHRB to suspend racing licenses and race days at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia without public notice due to an unprecedented wave of horse deaths and fatal injuries at the track.
A total of 30 horses died during Santa Anita’s racing season, which ran from Dec. 26-June 23. The deaths led to calls for increased safety measures and an indefinite closure of the track while state officials investigate the cause of the deaths.
The DMTC dealt with a similarly deadly racing season in 2016, when 17 horses died during Del Mar’s racing season. After remaking its dirt track with the help of race track consultant Dennis Moore and implementing additional safety measures like adding a radiology and ultrasound facility along the track’s backstretch, only five horses died during Del Mar’s 2017 season and six during its 2018 season.
After instituting the changes, Del Mar has been rated one of the safest horse racing venues in the U.S., tallying only 0.79 horse deaths per 1,000 starts last year, according to the Jockey Club Equine Injury Database. According to the DMTC, the national average was 1.68 among tracks that reported their fatal injuries.
“Significant thought, due diligence and stakeholder input went into the crafting of the reforms we are implementing this summer,” said Tom Robbins, the DMTC’s executive vice president of racing and industry relations.
“All of us recognize our responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of the horses that race and train here. We are very appreciative of the cooperation from industry stakeholders including our owners and trainers.”
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is scheduled to begin its summer season July 17 and continue through Sept. 2. Races will be held Wednesday through Sunday each week with a sixth day of racing during the season’s final week.