For the first time in three weeks, horses will race at Santa Anita Park in California on Friday, below the surprising backdrop of the San Gabriel mountains. The direction has been closed in view that 5 March to allow officers to check out and renovate the dirt track following the loss of life of twenty-two horses while either training or racing inside the first nine weeks of the 2019 season. The wish is that one of the racing global’s most cherished guides can begin to flow on from a worrying begin to the 12 months.
But while the unforgettable putting endures, the racing itself will appearance pretty special if The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, gets its way. In what it described as “an open letter about the destiny of thoroughbred racing in California”, posted on 14 March, TSG made two radical proposals for the resumption of racing at Santa Anita and its other tune in the kingdom, Golden Gate Fields close to San Francisco.
The first, a right away ban on the use of all race-day medicinal drug such as the anti-bleeding drug Lasix, has in view that been watered down and will start with the two-yr-old crop in 2020. The 2nd, although, appears probably to apply from Friday: a ban on the use of the whip by using jockeys for some thing however “corrective safety measures”.
If so, Santa Anita could be the first music in a significant racing country to prohibit the whip for encouragement at any stage of a race. It may even set a precedent that racing regulators around the arena will war to disregard. If Santa Anita can get by using without the whip in the closing tiers of a race, why can’t all and sundry?
The British Horseracing Authority may be looking with interest. “We frequently communicate to our colleagues in different international locations in which racing is held,” a spokesperson said this week. “Events have moved pretty fast in current weeks in California and we stay up for catching up at the subsequent possibility to hear greater of their plans.”
There is a belief amongst a few fans of British racing that a similar move here is most straightforward a rely of time on. They may additionally properly see Santa Anita’s attempt to ban the whip because the first domino to topple, with a whip-loose end to the Grand National and the Derby inevitably somewhere down the line.
But first, the whip ban will need to stick at Santa Anita and to be seen as an achievement in each competitive and commercial terms. Will the shape arise? Will the jockeys adapt? And will punters still watch and wager on whipless races to the same volume in any respect or any degree?
For the moment this abrupt and radical change of policy might be restricted to Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields and is not going to increase even to other TSG-owned tracks some other place, which includes Pimlico in Maryland, which stages the second leg of America’s Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. As an internal “house rule”, it is also not going to apply to the Breeders’ Cup, which returns to Santa Anita this November for a document tenth time and to all intents hires the music as a venue for its own, separate occasion.
But precedents, once set, can be very tough to disregard. If the preceding seven months of racing at the music have indeed been run with out use of the whip for encouragement, which include trials for the major Breeders’ Cup events, it’ll jar to see the whips waving on the huge day itself.
And it’s far anybody’s bet how the form may workout when horses educated and conditioned below one set of policies arise against runners from a specific regime. The making a bet “handle” at the Breeders’ Cup – a record $136m at Churchill Downs in Kentucky closing year – underpins its success and these are the sort of uncertainties that could make punters wary about parting with their coins.
Santa Anita’s ban on Lasix, incredibly delayed though it’s going to in the end be, is anticipated to lessen field sizes – and consequently making a bet handle – at the path subsequent 12 months in any case. If punters also respond negatively to a ban on the whip for encouragement, the song’s executives will have dug themselves into a hollow with out an obvious means of escape.
For those, like me, who experience the whip is a complex problem with out an easy answer, Santa Anita’s flow looks like part of a barely panicked response to a welfare crisis.
And but, the current, air-cushioned whip does not surely belong within the welfare debate. The BHA’s worries are greater to do with the way it looks to outsiders and capacity new racegoers than any perception that it genuinely inflicts pain. It is certainly too mild to try this.
It is also a massive soar to suggest whipping played an element in any of the 22 fatalities on the tune this year however the ban still appears set to be in the vicinity from Friday. While the most earnest wish is for a secure, incident-free resumption of racing at one in every of the sport’s maximum luxurious venues, there is additionally a nagging fear that the street to hell is paved with good intentions.