Los Alamitos Given Green Light After New Plan For Equine, Rider Safety Praised By Board - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Los Alamitos Given Green Light After New Plan For Equine, Rider Safety Praised By Board

At the end of a ten-day period of probation of its license due to concerns about equine fatalities, Los Alamitos received unanimous support from the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) Monday to continue running its meet.

A petition filed by CHRB executive director Scott Chaney triggered an emergency meeting of the board ten days ago to discuss a recent cluster of deaths — both exercise-related and non-exercise-related — at the track. Following that emergency meeting, the track has seen two more equine fatalities. Since then, Los Alamitos officials submitted a plan to commissioners, outlining their plans to increase surveillance and further restrict medication use on the backstretch in order to reduce risk to horse and rider.

The plan sets up an entry review panel comprised of an entry steward, track management representative, and a veterinarian to scratch any horses they feel “unsuitable for any reason of horse and/or rider safety.” That panel, which was enacted for last week's racing, has already scratched five horses.

In addition to CHRB-mandated necropsy reviews that already take place following a racing or training death, the track will now require its own assessment process that will include the horse's veterinarian and trainer for all deaths, not just those related to exercise. Trainers with two equine deaths in a year on the Los Alamitos grounds which are not racing or training-related will undergo a review process and could see their participation privileges at the track revoked. More personnel will be observing morning training at the track, and patrolling the backstretch with the latitude to question handlers and veterinarians about procedures they observe at the barn.

Dr. Rebecca Fitzgerald, track veterinarian, said that initial set-up of these procedures, particularly the entry review board, have already been tremendously helpful. Fitzgerald said she has also taken on the task of conducting exams on horses the day after a race to make sure they came out of it well.

The new plan places restrictions on age and workout experience for first-time starters (Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse) and also prohibits intra-articular injection within 14 days of a race, and intra-articular cortisone within 30 days of a race. Trainers are also prohibited from entering horses that have had two intra-articular cortisone injections within the previous 60 days. Dr. Rick Arthur, CHRB equine medial director, pointed out that three of the last four fatalities would have been barred from entry if the new intra-articular injection rules had been in place earlier.

“I can assure you all that we're kind of humiliated by this whole thing,” said Dr. Ed Allred, owner of Los Alamitos. “I think a lot of it just sort of happened. Things happen in clusters sometimes; we've said that before. We're going to do all we can, everything we possibly can, to do things properly in the future. Some of our people, our trainers will be a little upset by it, but they will adjust to it.”

“You made the comment about some of the trainers are not going to like it and all that — too bad,” said CHRB commissioner Dennis Alfieri. “They shouldn't be training. A lot of trainers that call themselves 'trainers' and they're not trainers. They have one or two horses, they bring them in, they race them … that's what's always made me uneasy with this whole industry, is people who call themselves trainers who shouldn't be training horses. These trainers that don't want to step up and raise their own bar should be out.”

Representatives from the Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers, and Pacific Coast Quarter Horse Racing Association all spoke up in favor of the new plan.

Although commissioners were generally appreciative of the work Allred and his team put into the plan, commissioner Wendy Mitchell said she hesitated to be too congratulatory toward the industry.

“I really appreciate that people put together this plan and plan on implementing it; I wish we weren't in this situation in the first place,” said Mitchell. “This is the first time we've used this regulation and I was not satisfied with the response at our hearing last week. I think that patting everyone on the back at this point isn't really appropriate … we want to give the track the backbone and knowing they have the support of the CHRB to crack down. While I appreciate the plan, let's keep it in perspective — we're in this situation, which is not a good situation.”

Los Alamitos is scheduled to conduct nighttime Quarter Horse races through late December. Allred and Fitzgerald reassured the board these new protocols will remain in place on a long-term basis. See the complete plan, along with public comments offered before the meeting, here.

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