AMERICAN HORSE RACING HOLDS ITS COLLECTIVE BREATH OVER THE SANTA ANITA DERBY CARD

The Santa Anita Derby has always been a prominent race for Kentucky Derby contenders and has produced many winners of the Run for the Roses. Yet this coming Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby has the most significance of any Santa Anita Derby in history…for the wrong reason. The television audience for the race will almost surely be larger than normal as people who do not ordinarily follow horse racing choose to watch in the wake of the worldwide publicity over 23 horse deaths at Santa Anita since December 26, 2018.

Ownership and top management at Santa Anita are playing with fire by running at Santa Anita Saturday rather than postponing the race or moving it to the owner’s Golden Gate Fields racetrack in San Francisco. Were the Santa Anita Derby or its undercard to be marred by a horse breakdown, it would have monumentally negative consequences for horse racing not only in California but for the entire United States. Santa Anita ownership in particular and horse racing in general would be pilloried by elected officials, animal-rights groups, the media, and a host of others.

The powers that be at Santa Anita are in an untenable position. Cancelling the Santa Anita Derby card or moving it elsewhere are not good options. Moreover, if a breakdown occurs today or tomorrow at Santa Anita, ownership will be under tremendous pressure to cancel Saturday’s races.

My personal opinion is that the risks and potential adverse consequences of racing at Santa Anita now in the wake of so many horse deaths far outweigh the benefits of going on with business as usual. Horse racing can’t take many more public-relations disasters like the one at Santa Anita. Until the safety issues at Santa Anita are resolved, the best course of action is to lay low.

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