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Breeders' Cup set for drugs ban as Santa Anita rules out raceday medication

Santa Anita: will host the Breeders' Cup for a record 11th time this year
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This year's Breeders' Cup look set to be staged without the use of raceday medication, including Lasix, after the host track announced a permanent ban on it as a result of a spate of deaths at the California course this winter.

In a move which could have huge ramifications for the Breeders’ Cup, the Stronach Group, owners of Santa Anita, has also put in place steps to modify the use of the whip.

Twenty-two equine fatalities have occurred at Santa Anita in recent weeks, and the Stronach Group’s chairman and president, Belinda Stronach, penned a lengthy open letter announcing the dramatic shift in policy.

The Stronach Group owns seven racecourses in the US, including Gulfstream Park and Laurel Park

“What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking,” Stronach said. “It is unacceptable to the public and, as people who deeply love horses, to everyone at the Stronach Group and Santa Anita.

“The sport of horseracing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernised. If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards. Today, I’m announcing the Stronach Group will take the unprecedented step of declaring zero tolerance for race-day medication at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields.

"These thoroughbred racetracks will be the first in North America to follow the strict International Federation of Horseracing Authorities standards.

“We have arrived at a watershed moment. The Stronach Group has long been a strong advocate for the abolishment of raceday medication, but we will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes. Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognise just how disruptive this might be."

Stronach also announced changes to the use of the whip.

“Additionally, it is time to address the growing concern about use of the riding crop," she said. "A cushion crop should only be used as a corrective safety measure. While we firmly believe our jockeys have not purposely been mistreating their mounts, it is time to make this change.”

The Santa Anita fatalities had the potential to complicate this year’s Breeders’ Cup, set to be run there for a record 11th time, but in a statement, Breeders’ Cup stood behind the Stronach Group and the track.

A statement from Breeders’ Cup Limited read: “Like all of racing we are profoundly saddened by the loss of a life at any racetrack and we are heartbroken for those whose livelihoods are dedicated to the care of our horses.

“As an organisation, the Breeders’ Cup stands for the highest levels of safety and integrity. We support the effort by the Stronach Group to propose important changes and we commit to working with the racing industry in California and elsewhere to achieve meaningful reform on a national basis.

“We recognise that for real change to result from this difficult situation we must engage those stakeholders quickly and dedicate time and other resources. We must, as an industry, press forward on implementing existing best practices and rapidly proceed with the consideration of further reforms such as those proposed by the Stronach Group in California. It is vital that we all do so.”   

Simon Callaghan, who moved to the US in 2009 from Britain after assisting his father Neville in Newmarket, now trains at Santa Anita.

Quoted in Thoroughbred Daily News, Callaghan pointed out that the regulatory measures Santa Anita is set to implement will put the track in line with many other racing jurisdictions around the world.

“I’ve trained in Europe, so, to me it’s not going to make a big difference,” Callaghan said. “We’ll make some adjustments and I think it’s something we need to embrace rather than pull against.”

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We will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes

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