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Assemblyman Ash Kalra. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Horse Racing Safety and Medical Reform Bill Introduced in Assembly

AB 2177 joins other horse racing safety bills responding to the dozens of race horse deaths in 2019

By Evan Symon, February 13, 2020 2:47 am

The second horse racing safety bill of the year was introduced in the Assembly on Tuesday.

The second horse racing reform bill of 2020

Assembly Bill 2177, authored by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), would introduce more race horse welfare and safety regulations, regulate supplements that can be given to race horses, and would have veterinarians review histories of race horses before they can run. In addition, AB 2177 would have racetracks introduce more technology such as cameras and CT scanners to ensure horse health and safety, would make all horse drug tests available for the public, and would have several other additional veterinary and medicinal reforms, such as having an on-site equine pharmacy at the racetrack.

A bill introduced last month in the Senate, SB 800, promised similar reforms, albeit in a less-detailed manner.

Support for reforms

Senator Bill Dodd. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

The reforms supported by Assemblyman Kalra and Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) in their respective reforms come after an unusually high death count of over 100 horses in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, with Santa Anita Park in Arcadia recording 32 untimely deaths in 2019 alone. A number of reasons, ranging from trainer neglect to medical conditions exacerbated by racing to rough track conditions have been cited as major factors in the spike of deaths. The high number of deaths also spurred numerous protests at racetracks last year.

Assemblyman Kalra expanded upon his reasons in authoring AB 2177, also known as the Equine Welfare and Safety in Horse Racing Act, in a statement on Tuesday.

“If the state is to continue to sanction horse racing and it is wagering as a legal sport, addressing horse fatalities to the greatest extent possible needs to take precedence,” said Assemblyman Kalra on Tuesday. “AB 2177  tackles the practices that can lead to broken bones and death, including the misuse of medication, running horses with pre-existing injuries, utilizing unsafe racing surfaces, and more. I look forward to working with the state regulators and all those working in the horse racing industry to enact bold action to protect both horses and jockeys.”

Opposition to AB 2177 and SB 800

While both AB 2177 and SB 800 have found many large supports, most noteworthy PETA, the bills have also drawn a large amount of criticism. Opponents, such as racetrack owners and racetrack worker groups, have said that many reforms have already taken place without state intervention and that many of the reforms in AB 2177 borderline on redundancies.

“I’ve heard from many jockeys over the past few years, as well as many workers,” explained former jockey Marco Ruiz to the California Globe. “And many racetracks have already been putting in new scanners and adding more horse medical checks. By the time these laws are passed, if they’re passed, many tracks sound like they’re going to actually go above what they’re asking for.

We’ve taken out a few bad apples, like trainers who were really working those horses down. I agree this is a problem but race tracks, from the owners to those who are mucking out the stalls, are already working on this. They hate to see deaths too, and many jockeys can be emotionally distraught when horses die. We know what needs to be done. If you want a law setting higher standards, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t say that we need standards that we’ve already developed or already improved on. It’s patronizing to us and makes it look like no one has any idea or are trying to hide things within the track.”

Both AB 2177 and SB 800 are set to go before committees in the next few months in their respective houses.

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