SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGTV) - A California Assemblymember wants to make horse racing safer and prevent deaths on the track.
Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-27) says it's the only way to ensure the sport's survival in the state.
"I think whether you're a race fan or not, everything we can do to protect the horses, while protecting the sanctity of the sport as well, is important," says Kalra.
His proposal, Assembly Bill 2177, would create sweeping changes to the way horses are cared for at the tracks. Among the most notable changes, all large tracks would be required to have CT Scans on site. Kalra says this will help get more accurate diagnoses of injuries.
The bill would also require tracks to have on-site pharmacies, and trainers could only give medicine from those pharmacies to the horses. Veterinarians would also be prohibited from carrying medicine to the tracks.
"If you mask injuries, you risk greater injury," he says. "So we want to make sure that medications are being prescribed that actually deal with specific injuries, they're not performance enhancing and they're not being used to mask an injury just to get a horse out on a track when it's not ready."
The bill requires the immediate suspension of any trainer who has a horse die on the track, pending an investigation. It also gives the California Horse Racing Board the authority to suspend or revoke a trainer's license for repeat violations of medication regulations.
The bill is sponsored by PETA and the animal rights group Social Compassion in Legislation. In a statement, PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo says "Horse racing shouldn't come with a death toll, and this legislation can help to make sure it doesn't."
Judie Mancuso, the President of Social Compassion in Legislation told 10News that this bill can be a good compromise between the industry and people who want to see the sport eliminated.
"A lot of it is just common sense," says Mancuso. "If horse racing is to exist in California, there has to be zero tolerance for fatalities."
Horse deaths were a major problem in California in 2019. Santa Anita saw 44 horses die at the track since December of 2018. The Del Mar race track had a handful of deaths during its Bing Crosby fall season.
Kalra says Del Mar has been a leader in horse safety and the rest of the state should look to them for best practices.
"Del Mar is actually one of the safer tracks and that's something we want to look at," he says. "Why is it safer? We can learn a lot by what's happening at your local track and hopefully these rules and regulations will be able to encapsulate some of the good things happening in the industry as well."
Officials from Del Mar declined to go on camera, but released a statement to 10News about Assembly Bill 2177. In it, they say:
"The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) is committed to working with the legislature and equine experts to ensure the safest possible environment for California's horses and riders. In 2017, DMTC began a series of industry-leading reforms which resulted in Del Mar being ranked as the safest racetrack in North American in both 2018 and 2019. As a founding member of the national Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, DMTC continues to work with industry stakeholders to advocate for and implement the highest standards of safety and welfare for our equine and human athletes."
Critics of the bill say it will ruin the industry in California, as trainers and owners who don't want to abide by the new rules will choose to race in other states instead. Kalra believes that if California adopts the new rules, the rest of the country will follow.
"California needs to do what's in the best interest of Californians," he says. "I think once we do that and other states see how we're doing it, they'll want to work with us and really create a standard that can be used nationally."
The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Government Oversight Committee on March 13th.