SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Wednesday giving state horse racing officials the authority to suspend racing events to protect the safety of horses or jockeys.
The Golden State’s horse racing industry has faced intense criticism from animal rights groups and elected officials following the deaths of 30 thoroughbred horses while racing or training at Santa Anita Park since the racing season began in December 2018.
The Stronach Group – which owns the track in the Southern California city of Arcadia – has
sidestepped calls to suspend racing and instead implemented a series of reforms not directly tied to track conditions, such as banning racing whips and anti-bleeding medication and digitizing horse medical records.
Newsom and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein endorsed granting the California Horse Racing Board greater authority through Senate Bill 469 to move or suspend racing meets if dangerous racing conditions exist.
The governor said in a statement Wednesday after signing the bill that it will bring a “greater level of transparency and accountability” to horse racing in the state.
“Business as usual has resulted in too many horse deaths,” Newsom said. “I call on race tracks around the state to hold themselves to the higher screening standards recently adopted at Santa Anita. This model can save horses’ lives.”
Newsom also appointed Gregory Ferraro, former director of the University of California, Davis
School of Veterinary Medicine Center for Equine Health, to the California Horse Racing Board.
Ferraro, 73, of San Francisco, must be confirmed by the state Senate before he can take his place on the board.
Under Newsom’s direction, the Stronach Group implemented a reform measure on June 12 that requires a 5-member team of veterinarians to inspect horses medical records, race history and current health before a race.
The team can “scratch” a horse from racing if they find that it is unhealthy or at a high risk for injury.
Newsom said in the statement Wednesday that 38 horses were scratched or denied entry at Santa Anita Park since the new review process was established.
The Stronach Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the bill signing.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced in April that her office is investigating “whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses” at Santa Anita Park.
SB 469, introduced by State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, remedies the horse racing board’s limited authority to take action against race track operators or place restrictions on race meets.
“Putting the safety of horses first is paramount,” Dodd said in a statement. “I appreciate Gov. Newsom’s partnership and swift action in supporting this common-sense measure to allow the horse racing board to halt racing when dangerous conditions exist.”