Horse racing groups launch safety coalition

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) — This year the public took notice of the rash of thoroughbred horse racing deaths at Santa Anita.

Keeneland had nine during its meets.

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According to an independent study by activist Patrick Battuello, who tracks horse racing deaths in this country, says more than 2,000 thoroughbreds die every year in the U.S. during a race or training.

His same statistics showed horse racing is five times deadlier in this country than anywhere else in the world.

Critics blame rampant drug use, unethical veterinarians and greedy owners along with a lack of uniform safety regulations.

Tuesday, leading horse racing groups like the Keeneland Association launched a safety coalition to address issues that some say threaten the sport’s survival.

The group, called the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, says it knows something needs to be done to save the sport. It says these safety reforms are just the start and more needs to be done.

The coalition’s founding members, from Keeneland and Churchill Downs, to the Stronach Group in California, Breeders’ Cup, Del Mar and the New York Racing Association represent over 85% of the stakes races in America.

“It became apparent earlier this year, I think, that we need to be doing more and that’s why we’re all here to announce to you guys, to the whole world, that we’re here to make racing safer,” says Breeders’ Cup President Drew Fleming.

There isn’t one governing body over the sport like other major sports such as the NFL or NBA.

So the group’s objective is to make the sport safer with sweeping reforms, better transparency and improved information sharing.

“Transparency builds trust,” says Keeneland President Bill Thomason.

“This is not just a commitment on paper. These are real reforms that can be and will be implemented. We have an obligation to ensure that we hold one another accountable,” says Churchill Downs President Kevin Flanery.

The group says if an organization violates the rules it will be penalized but those specifics haven’t been worked out yet. There’s still a lot of questions.

“What issues we need to address? What our’s plan? How do we implement the plan? Which is really difficult and again, what those penalties are?” asks Flanery.

Other reforms include increasing the withdrawal time for certain drugs.

“We must make sure that these medications are not misused or overused,” says Del Mar’s veterinarian Dr. William Farmer.

Also, limiting jockeys use of the whip, mandating daily reporting by vets to officials and creating an electronic veterinary reporting system and centralized database with a horse’s medical history.

“I have never ever been involved in an imitative with a group of people who were more serious, more committed, and more dedicated to this sport and the athletes that are participating in this sport,” says Thomason of the safety coalition.

For a full list of the safety reforms and to learn more about the coalition, click here.

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Christy Bollinger joined the ABC 36 news team as a reporter in March 2018. Christy comes from a little western Kentucky town called Cadiz. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in May 2017 with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Criminology. Christy is thrilled to be working at her dream job in her home state. She is passionate about storytelling and you can see her weekdays on ABC 36 News at 5 and 6 p.m. She's covered everything from visits from the sitting president and vice president, to high-profile murder cases. When not chasing stories, Christy loves nothing more than being at the beach and says life is just better with sand between your toes and waves crashing at your feet. She is also a big animal lover. She's a fur momma and her mini-Australian Shepherd, Milly, standard Australian Shepherd, Bennie, and her Maine Coon, Cheeto, are the loves of her life. Christy encourages you to send her any story ideas you may have. Find her on Facebook at Christy Bollinger ABC 36, tweet her @ChristyB_news, or email her at CBollinger@wtvq.com.