Safety at Del Mar


The safety of our athletes, both human and equine, is our number one priority at Del Mar. We make it our responsibility to establish the highest standards in the industry for the health and safety of our participants and are committed to allowing no less than the very best in this regard. We work closely with other tracks, veterinarians and industry leaders to ensure that we continuously improve conditions and uphold the integrity of the sport we love so much.

— Joe Harper, DMTC CEO, President, General Manager

Del Mar is one of the nation's leading racetracks offering first-rate Thoroughbred competition and we take pride in constantly improving the safety for our horses and jockeys.

Del Mar does many things to ensure the safety of its horses and riders:

In September 2009, Del Mar became a member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance. The Alliance’s aim is to establish national uniform standards in the areas of safety and integrity. Its certification standards cover five broad areas: injury reporting and prevention; creating a safer racing environment; aftercare and transition of retired racehorses; uniform medication, testing and penalties, and safety research. In awarding it accreditation to Del Mar, NTRA officials noted that the track “exceeded prescribed benchmarks on many fronts with industry-wide best practices established in several areas.” Twice reviewed since by the NTRA’s Safety and Integrity Alliance, Del Mar on both occasions passed all testing and requirements with flying colors.
Del Mar enlarged and enhanced the turf course in 2014, then installed a new main dirt track for the start of its 2015 season. Del Mar’s wider and safer turf course has been called by some “the best turf course in the country.” The sturdy GN-1 Bermuda grass (12 acres worth) allows for six rail changes, compared to three for the old course. The dirt course, consisting of 31,000 tons of “El Segundo Sand,” the favored dirt mix also in place at Santa Anita Park, replaced the track’s synthetic Polytrack surface that had been in place from 2007 to 2014.

Del Mar has hired two of the best track/turf maintenance men in the business to tend to their racing surfaces on a year-round basis. The track employs a pair of youthful-yet-experienced, highly-respected maintenance men to tend to its racing surfaces throughout the year. Steven Wood, 42, who handles the main track, and Leif Dickinson, 53, who oversees the turf course, already have more than a half-century of experience between them and reputations as pro’s pros in their fields. Both have worked at/on racing surfaces around the world and both are in-demand consultants for tracks and courses in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Del Mar was the first racetrack in America to install the state-of-the-art Fontana Safety Rail on its main track. More than three-quarters of the racetracks in North America feature the Fontana Safety Rail and it has been pointed to repeatedly for its role in avoiding or limiting horse and rider injury. Del Mar employs the Mawsafe Running Rails on its turf course, considered the leading turf safety rail in the world. The light-weight, highly flexible rail system bends and is easily moved as well as adds support to horses brushing against it, keeping them on course and virtually eliminating attempts to jump in. In the case of a fallen horse or rider, the rail posts have the ability to kick out and release, thus ensuring the prevention of further hard-contact injuries.
On the day of a race, horses entered to run at Del Mar go through four separate veterinarian checks prior to being allowed to compete. All horses scheduled to run on that afternoon’s card are extensively examined by one of the track’s veterinarians on race morning at their barns. From the time the horses arrive at the receiving barn, through the saddling paddock, post-parade, starting gate, running of the race, and until they leave the track, the horses are under the observation of either the track or official veterinarian. Additionally, all horses are checked for injury or other problems following the running of each race and can be scheduled for a follow-up inspection if one of the track’s veterinarians suspects problems of any kind.

Del Mar keeps four ambulances – three equine, one human – on site and at the ready throughout its racing seasons. In the event of an injury or medical emergency, Del Mar stands ready to quickly respond to the circumstance virtually anywhere on its grounds. Besides its two in-house veterinarians who are on-call and on-duty throughout a racing day, there are at any one time as many as 20 private veterinarians on the grounds ready and able to assist a horse in distress. Additionally, the track has a doctor on duty and on site each racing day as well as two fully trained EMTs ready to assist in any human medical emergencies. Further, a completely equipped fire station, with a standard compliment of equipment and personnel, sits on the fairgrounds that is home to the racetrack.

Safety stewards are assigned to each racetrack to focus rules and procedures designed toinsure the health and safety of racehorses. This responsibility requires safety stewards to spend considerable time in the stable areas and race track monitoring environmental safety and proper treatment of horses. Dangerous working conditions and mistreatment of horses is not tolerated. Safety stewards also monitor track surfaces independently and work with all racing associations to maintain safe and consistent racing surfaces.

During its race meeting, Del Mar maintains and staffs a complete radiology and ultrasound facility on its backstretch for use on its horses. Horsemen who have concerns about their racing animals, especially in regard to possible leg or general body injuries, can address those issues directly on-site through the use of advanced radiology and ultrasound technology. Additionally, a state-of-the-art equine hospital facility exists less than seven mile and 10 minutes away from the racetrack at the Helen Woodward Animal Center, which is used by many of the veterinarians who practice at Del Mar.
Since its inception in 1970, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has paid out tens of millions of dollars to dozens of worthy charities by virtue of funds generated from wagers placed. Though numerous charities of many kinds have been recipients of these funds over the years, Del Mar by design has steered much of its funding in recent years to equine-related charities. That shift has served the dual purpose of giving back to the industry that is at its heart and also enhancing the lives and the safety of our equine athletes.

Among those recently receiving funds are organizations such as the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, the California Center for Equine Health and Performance, the Winners Foundation, the California Thoroughbred Horsemen¹s Foundation and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.
The Kenneth L Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at UC Davis, widely recognized as one of the premier testing facilities in the world, provides California tracks with an effective drug testing program. Routine testing at Maddy exceeds “Super Test” criteria on each and every sample and tests for more than 1500 substances. The laboratory routinely adds new drugs and analytical tests as new information becomes available and has a world renowned equine pharmacology research program.

California was among the first racing jurisdictions in the United States to prohibit anabolic steroids in racing in 2008 and has adopted the national uniform medication program that restricts the use of a number of drugs and imposes limitations on the use of corticosteroids. California was also the first state to adopt a rule giving the Board authority to greatly restrict the overuse of clenbuterol at racetracks.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is one of the prime forces for advancing safety issues throughout the industry. Below are some of its statements and attitudes regarding horse safety:

How often do injuries occur?
The goal of everyone involved in horse racing is to prevent injuries to the athletes. As competitive equine athletes, Thoroughbreds occasionally suffer injuries. Fatal injuries are infrequent, however. When they do occur, many times they are largely unpreventable -- the equivalent of an athlete landing awkwardly or taking a bad step. Regardless of the cause, reducing injuries to our athletes is the number one priority for veterinarians and the industry.

A new equine injury database is now compiling injury data from most racetracks in the U.S. The database has helped the industry accurately identify the frequency of injuries, pointed to horses that may be at increased risk for sustaining an injury and helped to give direction to research priorities for the prevention of equine injuries.

Is it safe to train and race two-year-old horses?
Several research studies in the last decade have indicated that exercising and even competing racehorses at the age of two is better for the long-term soundness of the horse. Researchers have also found that horses that began racing at age four were twice as likely to die of catastrophic injury as horses that began racing at age two. However, certain two-year-old horses are not able to withstand the rigors of racing and training, so there is a need for additional investigation of conditioning and racing regimens for this group of horses. Each horse is unique and should be treated as such.

Regarding the number of times two-year-old racehorses compete each year, statistics from The Jockey Club show that modern two-year-olds run less frequently than ever before, with the average number of starts being 3.2.

Note: For detailed research information, visit the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation.

What is the role of medication?
Just like in human medicine, therapeutic medications given to racehorses are used to heal or cure medical conditions. The use of therapeutic medication in racehorses is a complex issue. Oftentimes, there is more than one way to address an illness or injury, and veterinarians follow a set of practices and policies that correspond to the individual health needs of the horse. Best practices within veterinary medicine demonstrate that therapeutic medications play a vital role in ensuring the health of all horses when a medical condition is present. Therapeutic medications are closely regulated in horse racing and veterinarians must follow the rules in the jurisdictions where they practice.

Are racehorses tested for drugs? What types of medications are allowed on race day?
In many respects, drug testing in horse racing is superior to that in human athletics. Generally, a wider variety of drugs are tested for and many more samples are tested than in human athletics. Medication(s) used to control exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) are allowed in all states on the day the horse is racing. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are permitted 24 hours prior to a race. Most states (including California) have banned anabolic steroids for horses that are in training. Other therapeutic medications are allowed but not on the day of the race.

What recently has been done in the Thoroughbred racing industry to ensure the safety of its athletes?
All of us involved in the sport care about the safety and well-being of the horse. As veterinarians, we continue to pursue advances in veterinary medicine that make it easier to stabilize, diagnose and treat injured horses. Advances in diagnostic tools, such as nuclear scintigraphy, help us spot potential injuries before they happen. Many equine medical research foundations are devoting significant resources to discovering other advances and inroads.

Several groups in the industry – including the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, The Jockey Club and the AAEP – have implemented programs designed to protect the health and welfare of the horse. The industry is working to create safer racing surfaces, improve health inspections for the horses, enhance drug testing and ensure systematic reporting of injuries. Racetracks are now encouraged to get accredited to demonstrate their commitment to safety.