These initiatives build on effective safety and welfare measures track operators introduced over the last several seasons of racing and which led to Del Mar being recognized as one the safest racetracks in the U.S. in 2018, according to data from The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database.
“Del Mar continues to strive to provide the safest environment possible for our equine and human athletes for both racing and training,” said chief executive officer 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.”
Among the additional steps Del Mar is enacting for the 2019 season:
- Entry review panel: All horses entered to race at Del Mar will be reviewed by a five-person panel that will provide additional review of horses’ medical, training, and racing history. The panel will recommend to the stewards that any horse it deems unfit for competition be declared from racing. Panel members will include:
- California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) Equine Medical Director Rick Arthur, DVM;
- Two CHRB veterinarians: William Farmer, DVM, and Timothy Grande, DVM;
- CHRB Chief Steward Darrel McHargue; and
- CHRB Safety Steward Luis Jauregui.
- Medication reform: Del Mar is adopting additional reforms modeled after the International Federation Horseracing Association requirements. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs, such as phenylbutazone and flunixin), that were allowed previously up to 24 hours in advance of a race, will be restricted to 48 hours before either a race or workout. The time period that allowed therapeutic usage of corticosteroids in joint treatment has been extended from the previous length of three days before a race to 14 days and horses will not be allowed to start until after the 14-day window.
- Increased out-of-competition testing: Random testing will be instituted for any horses stabled at Del Mar, including horses readying for—or having just completed—morning workouts.
- Enhanced stable security: Working in conjunction with CHRB investigative staff, an enhanced stable security team will monitor all aspects of the stable area to ensure that rules are properly followed.
- Additional veterinary protocols for morning training: Veterinarians will be stationed at elevated observation points at the facility to oversee morning workouts and will have the ability—through communication with outriders—to remove horses from the racetrack and have them undergo a follow-up soundness examination.
- Prohibit the use of the riding crop during morning workouts: Exercise riders and jockeys will be prohibited from using a riding crop to encourage their horses during morning workouts. Del Mar will continue to work with the CHRB and the Jockey’s Guild on additional crop use guidelines.
- Stakeholder Advisory Committee: The DMTC has created a stakeholder advisory committee represented by trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, racing surfaces maintenance personnel, and management that will meet regularly to discuss safety practices, operations and track surfaces.
In addition, the conditions of all horses stabled at Del Mar (approximately 1,850) will be thoroughly analyzed and reviewed by Del Mar’s racing department regularly with specific conditions (e.g., gaps in racing or workout activity) flagged for additional scrutiny.
“Significant thought, due diligence, and stakeholder input went into the crafting of the reforms we are implementing this summer,” said DMTC executive vice president of racing Tom Robbins. “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.”
In 2018 and 2017, Del Mar made a series of changes and adjustments focused on the safety of horses and riders, all of which will be continued in 2019, including:
- Fewer race dates: The DMTC reduced its summer racing season from eight weeks to seven, providing additional time to prepare the racing surfaces (after the San Diego County Fair) and allow horses to acclimate to new surroundings. The reduction in days resulted in approximately $1 million less in net revenue.
- New director of racing surfaces maintenance: In 2017, the DMTC hired Dennis Moore to oversee track maintenance. Moore immediately changed Del Mar’s banking and grading to conform with the other racing surfaces in Southern California, allowing an easy transition for horses competing in the Los Angeles-area. The cost of implementing these changes was approximately $1.5 million.
- Fewer horses on the grounds: The DMTC reduced the number of horses allowed on the grounds by roughly 15%, from approximately 2,100 to 1,850. Fewer horses alleviated demand for access to the main track during busy morning training hours.
- Adjusted morning workouts: The DMTC allowed only “workers” (those going at race speed, not joggers or gallopers) on the track for the first 10 minutes following the first two morning breaks.
- Enhanced veterinary inspections: The DMTC employed additional veterinarians to conduct pre-race inspections and monitor pre-race activities for starters, creating four distinct veterinary observation points for horses on race day.
- Racing surfaces expert Mick Peterson, PhD: The DMTC enlisted the services of Mick Peterson, PhD, director of University of Kentucky’s Equine Ag Programs and professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering, widely recognized as the nation’s foremost track surfaces analyst.
The most recent Jockey Club Equine Injury Database ranked Del Mar as among the safest major racetracks in the country with a rate of 0.79 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts in 2018. The national average of tracks reporting was 1.68.
In addition, the DMTC remains fully accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance for its upcoming season, having passed a complete review of equine and track safety protocols, injury reporting and prevention, medication testing, jockey health and safety best practices, wagering integrity, and equine aftercare policies in October 2017.
Del Mar will begin its 80th summer season on July 17 and race for 36 days through Labor Day, Sept. 2. Racing will be conducted five days a week from Wednesday through Sunday with a sixth day added on the closing week. First post daily is at 2 p.m. with the exceptions of Fridays, when racing begins at 4 p.m.