During the week before the Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park is used to being the center of attention. The Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep is one of the key dates on the national racing calendar, and one of the two biggest days at the Hallandale track. Usually, the attention of the turf media is turned squarely south, but this year, Gulfstream, owned by The Stronach Group (TSG), arguably got less attention than another TSG track, one that hadn’t held live races for most of the month of March.
Overshadowing this year’s Florida Derby were issues that call into question the future of Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA – and could directly impact Maryland’s Stronach-owned tracks, Laurel Park and Pimlico, as well as the entire Thoroughbred industry. Santa Anita closed for several weeks following a spike of equine fatalities since the winter meet opened on December 26.
The spate of injuries got the attention of national media, with headlines in non-racing publications virtually a daily occurrence. The focus became even more intense on March 14, when The Stronach Group published an “open letter” announcing that it would immediately begin implementing measures at Santa Anita to ban Lasix, further restrict a number of other medications, and reduce riders’ use of a whip. The next step in that process will take place April 12, when jockeys are slated to ride without whips.
Shocking as the announcement was on its own, it was equaled in impact by the inclusion in the letter of a quotation from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, endorsing TSG’s actions.
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