On June 27th, the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors voted unanimously to keep the 2019 event at Santa Anita despite 30 horse fatalities since late December 2018. By this action, the Board is taking on the obvious risk of a having a breakdown in the glare of international attention. But a recently passed California law ratchets up the risk even further and could result in a one-day event instead of two days.

John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times wrote this week:

“Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Wednesday a bill that gives the California Horse Racing Board the ability to swiftly suspend (emphasis added) racing at a track, move races between tracks, and change dates.

The CHRB earlier this month asked Santa Anita not to run the last six days of its meeting after a 28th horse suffered a catastrophic injury. Santa Anita said no and the CHRB had no recourse because of a mandatory 10-day public notice period required for any action by the board.

It now has the authority to suspend racing without a public notice period.” (emphasis added)

This significant change means that, perish the thought, if one or more horse fatalities occur during the races held on the Friday edition of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup, the CHRB has the legal authority to immediately cancel the Saturday card at Santa Anita with no public notice and without the consent of Santa Anita and Breeders’ Cup.

A single casualty on the Friday Breeders’ Cup card would evoke concern from elected officials, fans, and others, and multiple casualties would almost assuredly force the CHRB to act on an emergency basis by using its new legal power over California racetracks to call off Saturday races in the interests of safety and animal welfare.

The Breeders’ Cup is a private organization and can manage as it pleases. Yet it almost defies logic that the Board of Directors would willingly enter into a situation in which the year-to-date equine death toll at the host track is 30, international attention will be intensified, and the Saturday card could be cancelled by newly granted regulatory authority of the CHRB.

Next November 3rd, let’s hope that we look back on an incident-free Breeders’ Cup and say that all the fears about holding the event at Santa Anita turned out to be unwarranted. But, as of late June 2019, we don’t know whether there will be casualties or not. A barrage of negative publicity and even the cancellation of the Saturday card seem like risks that a prudent decision-maker would want to avoid, even at the cost of moving the event.

That the Breeders’ Cup Board of Directors’ vote to remain at Santa Anita was unanimous is perplexing.

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