As the conjecture continues regarding safety Santa Anita Park following the meet’s 23rd equine death over the weekend, America’s highest-profile trainer, Bob Baffert, on Tuesday said he has been assured there will be racing this weekend, when a blockbuster Saturday card with both the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Santa Anita Handicap (G1) are carded.
But Baffert remains concerned about the "tens of thousands" who work in California’s racing industry.
“We want to make it as safe as possible for these horses,” the Hall of Famer said during a national media teleconference. “These horses — they’re not our livelihood. They’re our way of life. There’s lots of people back here who are employees.
“We have to make this work. I worry about the families. I have a lot of employees…They’re worried. Racing needs to do well. This last month has been a little stressful."
Multiple entities weighed in after Arms Runner, a 5-year-old gelding, tripped, fell and suffered injuries he could not overcome on the dirt crossing of Santa Anita’s downhill turf course Sunday.
The Jockey Club has suggested industrywide reform related to medication, while People for Ethical Treatment of Animals spokesperson Kathy Guillermo called Gov. Gavin Newsom to "form an independent panel to investigate the training and veterinary practices in California racing."
"The negative publicity, I was very concerned about that," Baffert said. "They (PETA) don't know really how it works here, and you can only say so much. They don't know how we take care of these horses, and the employees, the families — there's a lot of jobs.
"They've never wanted horse racing. My job is not to worry about them. I'm worried about these horses."
Last week, before Arms Runner's breakdown, Claiborne Farm's Walker Hancock published a tweet that illustrated the urgency of this situation.
"We can all debate whether we should validate and cave to PETA," Hancock said, "but one thing every one needs to keep in mind is it only takes ~600,000 signatures to get a measure on the ballot to eliminate horse racing in California and PETA has over 700,000 members living in the state."
“It’s a beautiful sport,” Baffert said. “People don’t really understand it. We’ve had some bad luck here, and it’s very unusual what’s going on here.”
No breakdowns beyond Arm Runner’s fall have been reported since Santa Anita resumed racing last Friday following weeks of evaluating the surface and discussions about new rules proposed by The Stronach Group.
Ultimately, a number of medications were banned, and the amount of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix allowed was halved, with plans to completely do away with it in the 2-year-old crop of horses that begin racing in 2020. The California Horse Racing Board will later discuss further a Stronach Group mandate to ban most use of the whip in races.
“They’re athletes. There can always be injuries, but hopefully we’re moving forward,” said Baffert, who as with many others suggested above-average rainfall over the winter may have played a part in the spate of catastrophic injuries. “It’s like we’ve been under a dark cloud. Hopefully we can move forward.”
Getting through the weekend without issue would represent a start.