California Gov. Gavin Newsom: Horse racing's 'time is up' barring reform

A new horse-racing season in Santa Anita comes with a warning for the deadly sport from Gavin Newsom. (Getty)
A new horse-racing season in Santa Anita comes with a warning for the deadly sport from Gavin Newsom. (Getty)

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified California Horse Racing Board chairman Chuck Winner as the owner of Justify. Winner does not own the horse, nor did he sell its breeding rights. Yahoo Sports regrets the error.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom turned up the heat on horse racing Monday, telling the New York Times that the sport’s “time is up” if it doesn’t make significant reforms in regard to the health of its animals.

His declaration arrives as Santa Anita prepares for the opening of its fall season on Friday on the heels of a six-month span that saw 30 horses die at the Los Angeles-area race track.

“What happened last year was unacceptable, and all of the excuses be damned,” Newsom told The Times. “We own that going into the next season, and we’re going to have to do something about it.

“I’ll tell you, talk about a sport whose time is up unless they reform. That’s horse racing. Incredible abuses to these precious animals and the willingness to just to spit these animals out and literally take their lives is a disgrace.”

In June, Newsom signed into law a bill giving regulators authority to suspend the horse-racing licenses of tracks following the spate of deaths at Santa Anita.

Triple Crown scandal brings more heat

The Times also reported last month that 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify tested positive for banned performance-enhancer scopolamine after winning the Santa Anita Derby that year and should have been disqualified from racing at the Kentucky Derby.

According to the report, California regulators waited nearly three weeks to notify Justify’s trainer Bob Baffert of the positive test result, nine days before the May 5 running of the Kentucky Derby.

The timeline means that Baffert entered his horse knowing about the positive test. Few others at the time were aware, according to the report.

Famed trainer’s role in scandal

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s lawyer argued that Justify’s positive test was a result of “environmental contamination” due to the consumption of jimson weed in his feed.

Dr. Rick Sams, who ran the drug lab for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission from 2011 to 2018, told The Times after looking at records that the amount of scopolamine in Justify’s system — 300 milligrams — indicated doping.

“I think it has to come from intentional intervention,” Sams said.

Board exonerated Baffert in horse deaths

The California Horse Racing Board exonerated Baffert in 2013 after seven of his horses died at Inglewood’s Hollywood Park over the course of 16 months. Baffert was found to have administered thyroid hormone thyroxine to his horses despite there being no evidence of hypothyroidism in the the horses that received the treatment.

The board acknowledged the use of the drug by Baffert, but determined that he had not broken any rules.

Gavin Newsom called for significant reform to horse racing in California. (Getty)
Gavin Newsom called for significant reform to horse racing in California. (Getty)

Not just in California

Horse racing is under increased scrutiny nationwide as more attention is being paid to the spate of horse deaths.

Belmont Park in New York, home to the third leg of the Triple Crown, drew attention when its death toll for 2019 increased to 25 with three deaths in the first two days of its fall season that started Sept. 6.

Since then, five more horses have died at Belmont and four others at different New York tracks, according to the New York State Gaming Commission.

Newsom’s stern warning

Newsom cited the increased awareness of the fatalities that have always plagued the sport as influencing his stance.

“The more you realize what’s really going on, the more intolerant you become of certain behaviors,” Newsom said. “If you don’t reform yourself, you’re going to get run over, and others are going to reform for you in ways that you don’t like.”

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