LOS ANGELES (AP) – The California Horse Racing Board voted Thursday to severely limit the use of whips on horses in racing statewide and approved medication changes on a smaller scale following the deaths of 22 horses at Santa Anita Park.
The board votes came during a passionate meeting in which a group that represents jockeys argued that the whips were not connected to the horse deaths and that any drastic changes should be delayed for more study.
Board members rejected that idea, with two saying they personally witnessed whips being overused on some of the horses that died at Santa Anita and that if horse racing is to survive, changes are necessary.
“Going after a horse with a whip when it was obvious that the horse in question had nothing left to give is something I never want to see again,” said Madeline Auerbach, the board’s vice chairman.
“We are appointed to take care of racing in California and if we ignore the view of the people of this state we will all pay a very big price,” Auerbach said. “We won’t be arguing about whips. We will not have the ability to have whips because there will be no need for them because we will have destroyed the industry by being viewed as not taking care of our horses.”
Board chairman Chuck Winner shot back at the assertion the horses’ deaths were unrelated to whips.
“We don’t know that for sure,” he said. “If you watch some of the tapes, the horses that went down in some cases, the crop was being – in my view – overused and could have contributed.”
The vote to limit whips now goes to a regulatory agency for a public comment period and will have to go before the board again before it can become permanent regulation. That process could take up to six months, according a board spokesman.
The board also approved a plan by the owners of Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields in Northern California to begin phasing out the use of a medication known as Lasix, already banned on race days in every country but the U.S. and Canada.
While many American horse trainers say Lasix is a vital anti-bleeding medication that keeps horses safe, animal-rights activists say it amounts to a performance-enhancing drug and that most tracks in the world do fine without.
Though the board’s vote to phase it out just applies to Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, Winner said the matter undoubtedly will be looked at for statewide application in the coming months.
At Santa Anita, just northeast of Los Angeles, 22 horses suffered fatal injuries in less than three months, drawing national attention, angering animal rights groups, prompting protests and leading to the suspension of racing since March 5.
Racing at Santa Anita is expected to resume Friday, though no changes on the use of whips there are immediately planned until the statewide measure goes through final approval, though that could change.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.