Published Thursday, July 2nd, 2020   ( 3 years ago )

Del Mar Again Focuses on Safety as Summer Meet Set To Start; Welfare of Both Humans and Horses Top Priority

The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) will continue its enhanced safety measures for its horses and riders, while now also implementing a new set of protocols and procedures to ensure human safety, as its seaside Thoroughbred headquarters prepares to celebrate its 81st season of racing. 

The horse/rider initiatives amplify the effective safety and welfare measures that Del Mar introduced over the last several seasons of racing and which have led to it being recognized as one the safest racetracks in the U.S. for both 2018 and 2019, according to The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, which ranks Del Mar as among the safest major racetracks in the country with a rate of 0.79 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts in 2018 and 0.62 in 2019. The national average for track’s reporting was 1.68.

Additionally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the track also will take the unprecedented step of racing without fans in attendance in 2020 and with an extensive series of health and safety measures in place for all mandatory personnel.

“We’re all about safety here,” said DMTC’s CEO Joe Harper. “Safety and health will be our focus for the people involved with putting on this year’s extraordinary race meet, but we’ll also be continuing with our safety reforms for the wellbeing of our riders and horses.”

Working with health and medical experts in the county and state, Del Mar has put together a large-scale human safety program that will ensure those onsite at the 340-acre Del Mar Racetrack will have the most secure working environment possible during the 28-day session that runs from July 10 to September 7.

Among the daily measures that will be implemented throughout the 2020 summer race meeting at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club: 

  • Admittance to the facility will be strictly limited to essential personnel
  • Daily on-site health screening for all personnel, which include temperature checks
  • All personnel will be required to wear face coverings
  • Some staff – such as jockeys and the starting gate crew – will be required to wear additional personal protective equipment
  • Proper social distancing will be required
  • Additional handwashing and sanitizer stations throughout the Grandstand and stable area
  • Enhanced janitorial services including daily disinfectant of all “common areas”
  • No congregation of people will be permitted in the saddling/paddock area
  • Saddling/paddock area and starting gate will be disinfected after each race
  • On-site medical personnel
  • Quarantine area procedures

Additionally, access to the Del Mar stable area will be limited to those licensed individuals who work directly with the horses. Stable area personnel will be subject to the same mask/wristbands/distance rules all frontside individuals will work under.

As for the track’s extensive horse/rider safety program, it again will follow its well-considered and newly bolstered set of racing safety protocols that have been a model for best practices adopted by other tracks across the nation. Among racing steps that will be in place for the upcoming Thoroughbred stand are:

  • Entry Review Panel. The continuation of a panel of experts made up of regulatory veterinarians who will oversee the entries of all horses and provide an additional review of each of their medical, training and racing history. The panel will recommend to the track’s Stewards that any horse it deems unfit for competition not be allowed to race.
  • Medication Reform. Del Mar will further its adoption of reforms modeled after the International Federation Horseracing Association (IFHA) requirements. Rules surrounding NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories) have been enhanced and extended and additional rules regarding other equine medications have been clarified and codified.
  • Increases in out-of-competition testing. Random testing will continue on for any horse at Del Mar, including ones readying for - or having just completed - morning workouts.
  • Enhanced stable security. As before, and working in conjunction with the investigative staff of the CHRB, an enhanced stable security team will monitor all aspects of the stable area to ensure that rules are properly followed.
  • Veterinary protocols for morning training. Just as they were last summer, veterinarians will be stationed at elevated observation points at the facility to oversee morning workouts and will have the ability – through communication with outriders – to remove horses from the racetrack and have them undergo a follow-up soundness examination.
  • Prohibit the use of the riding crop during morning workouts. Exercise riders and jockeys again will be prohibited from using a riding crop to encourage their horses during morning workouts. Del Mar continues to work with the CHRB and the Jockey’s Guild on additional guidelines for riding crop use.
  • Stakeholder Advisory Committee. DMTC created a stakeholder advisory committee last summer represented by trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, racing surfaces maintenance personnel and management that met regularly to discuss safety practices, operations and track surfaces. That committee will be in session during 2020 also.

In addition, the conditions of all horses stabled at Del Mar (approximately 1,800) once more will be thoroughly analyzed by Del Mar’s racing department regularly with specific conditions (e.g., gaps in racing or workout activity) flagged for additional scrutiny.  

Over the past three years, Del Mar made a series of changes and adjustments aimed at horse and rider safety. Those measures will carry forward to this summer and include:

  • The highly professional work of our directors of racing surfaces maintenance. In 2017, DMTC hired Dennis Moore, widely considered the top track maintenance professional in the industry. Moore immediately changed Del Mar’s banking and grading to conform with the other racing surfaces in Southern California, allowing an easy transition for horses competing in the Los Angeles-area. Moore’s exceptional work – as well as the untiring efforts of our grass course specialist Leif Dickinson – will be at the heart of the track’s safety efforts.
  • Fewer horses on the grounds. Over the past several seasons, DMTC has reduced the number of horses allowed on the grounds by more than 15% – from approximately 2,100 to 1,800. Fewer horses alleviated demand for access to the main track during busy morning training hours, creating a safer training environment.
  • Adjusted morning workouts. DMTC allowed only “workers” (those going at race speed, not joggers or gallopers) on the track for the first 10 minutes following the first two morning breaks. It has proven to be a successful safety procedure that has been adopted by other tracks in the industry.
  • Enhanced veterinary inspections. DMTC will continue to employ additional veterinarians to conduct pre-race inspections and monitor pre-race activities for starters, creating four distinct veterinary observation points for horses on race day.
  • Racing Surfaces expert Dr. Mick Peterson. DMTC continues to be aided by the services of Dr. Mick Peterson, director of University of Kentucky’s Equine Ag Programs and Professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, widely recognized as the nation’s foremost track surfaces analyst. 

In addition, in 2019 DMTC joined the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, an association of major U.S. racing organizations committed to meaningful reforms and accountability across U.S. racing jurisdictions. Del Mar remains fully accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance for its upcoming season, having passed a complete review of equine and track safety protocols, injury reporting and prevention, medication testing, jockey health and safety best practices, wagering integrity and equine aftercare policies at its most recent testing.

Del Mar will race on a Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule throughout the summer, finishing its meet with a traditional closing day card on Labor Day Monday. First post daily will be 2 p.m.