LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’s supporting legislation that would give the California Horse Racing Board authority to quickly suspend a meet license when necessary to protect the health and safety of horses or riders.
The announcement Thursday follows the deaths of 26 horses at Santa Anita since Dec. 26.
“The recent horse fatalities in California are unacceptable,” Newsom said in a statement. “We must hold the horse racing industry to account. If we can regulate horse race meets, we should have the authority to suspend licenses when animal or human welfare is at risk.”
The legislation, SB469 by state Sen. Bill Dodd, would allow the board to immediately suspend a license without the usual legal notice at least 10 days in advance of a vote, or the 48-hour requirement in the case of so-called special meetings. The bill has cleared the Senate and now goes to the Assembly.
“Santa Anita Park has led the way in implementing historic reforms that modern racing requires,” Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for tracks owner The Stronach Group, said in an email to The Associated Press.
“We are committed to working with Governor Newson and to continue the progress we have made to date with owners, trainers, jockeys and all other stakeholders who are prioritizing horse and rider safety,” he said.
Santa Anita’s current meet ends June 23. On Nov. 1-2, it will host the Breeders’ Cup, considered the biggest two-day event in U.S. horse racing.
The rate of deaths began drawing notice during winter when the track east of Los Angeles received unusually heavy rain, bringing scrutiny of the condition of the surface.
Most of the deaths occurred before the track temporarily suspended racing in early March and limited training.
Before racing resumed March 29, Santa Anita instituted medication limits and provided additional track veterinarians to monitor training hours. The racing board also increased veterinarian, steward and investigator staffing time.
In the meantime, the Los Angeles County district attorney opened an investigation and animal-rights activists have protested at the track.
The most recent death was on May 26, when a 9-year-old gelding was euthanized after injuring a leg in a race a day earlier. It was the third horse death in nine days.
Among the array of new measures aimed at improving safety, The Stronach Group invested $500,000 in a scanning machine to detect injuries.
In addition, no race-day medications are allowed except for the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, which will be phased out in stages. Medications for horses in training require a diagnosis from a state-qualified veterinarian, and transparency of veterinarian records has been increased.
Timed, high-speed workouts require permission at least 48 hours in advance so that veterinarians can try to identify at-risk risk horses.
The group also said it would continue working with independent track surface experts.