02/08/2017 9:22PM

CHRB concerned about rise in fatalities in 2016

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Handle on horse races in California rose 1.6 percent in 2016, while field size showed a slight increase and the number of racing days declined, according to an annual report published Wednesday by the California Horse Racing Board.

The report, published on the racing board’s website, gave an overview of a variety of business and sporting activities in California’s Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and harness-racing circuits.

The report indicated a rise in the number of equine fatalities at all California tracks to 205 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. By comparison, there were 187 in the year ending June 30, 2015, and 199 in the year ending June 30, 2014. The figure was as high as 278 in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, there were 63 fatalities at Los Alamitos – 36 in races, 11 in training, and 16 other reported incidents, which included a variety of illnesses.

The racing board’s data did not differentiate between fatalities that occurred during daytime Thoroughbred meetings held three times a year and the Quarter Horse and lower-level Thoroughbred meeting run at night on a year-round basis.

By comparison, there were 14 fatalities at Del Mar, including 10 in races and one in training; 62 fatalities at Santa Anita, including 26 in races and 31 in training; and 41 at Golden Gate Fields, including 13 in races and 19 in training. 

In the 2014-15 fiscal year, there were 57 total fatalities at Los Alamitos, 45 at Santa Anita, 30 at Golden Gate Fields, and 16 at Del Mar. The racing board’s current annual report does not include data from a rash of fatalities that occurred at Del Mar in the second half of 2016.

In a statement introducing the latest annual report, racing board chairman Chuck Winner said the rise in equine fatalities is a concern.

“I cannot stress enough how upset we are with the increased number of catastrophic injuries,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, that unacceptable trend continued into the 2016 Del Mar meet. As I have often stated, our first priority is the safety of the horse and the rider – a priority that is shared by the entire racing industry.

“We have, therefore, enhanced rules, policies, and programs to improve safety. But clearly, more has to be done and will be done.”

Winner cited changes that include an increase in the number of state veterinarians conducting prerace examinations, enhanced physical review of horses returning from layoffs, extending restrictions on race-day medications to horses undergoing workouts, and expanding out-of-competition testing.

Handle on races for all breeds was $3,076,945,840 from Dec. 23, 2015, to Dec. 20, 2016, a rise of 1.6 percent from the handle figure of $3,027,702,606 over a similar period ending in December 2015. Handle in 2014 was more than $3.113 billion, while the 2013 handle was $3.17 billion.

The rise in 2016 was helped by the presence of the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita last November. The event was held at Keeneland in 2015.

In 2016, the number of racing days declined from 630 to 620 but was closer to the 2014 figure of 623. Field sizes averaged 7.35 runners per race in 2016 compared with 7.27 in 2014 and 7.29 in 2015. There were 5,489 races run in 2016 compared with 5,635 in 2014 and 5,567 in 2015.