There is a new normal in Southern California horse racing. When it rains, we don’t play.
This is not unlike how Major League Baseball operates. In baseball when it rains, the grounds crew rolls out a tarpaulin to cover the mostly dirt infield. Then when it stops raining they roll it back up and continue the game.
In horse racing, there is no tarp big enough to cover the dirt main track. And no one has figured out a domed roof over a track surface to protect it from inclement weather.
Horse racing used to be like the United States Post Office. Rain or shine. We deliver.
But in the aftermath of the 2019 Santa Anita Park winter-spring meet where far too many horses perished, Southern California racing has a new mantra. Safety first.
On Dec. 21, Santa Anita executives announced a cancellation of racing for Dec. 26 and 27 due to inclement weather. Del Mar did the same thing twice during the Bing Crosby meet. In these instances, the cancellations were announced almost a week out based upon a long range weather forecast.
Their executives are being proactive and cautious for good reasons. When the public perception has been shaped that racetracks are a killing field, then there needs to be overpowering evidence that it is not.
Our sport can learn from history. In the early 1900s, college football was nearly abolished after scores of deaths and serious injuries to hundreds of players. President Teddy Roosevelt is credited with saving a sport that he truly loved.
Rule changes and the development of safety equipment made college football safer. Horse racing is going through a similar development now. No one can argue that a safer sport for horses and humans will keep PETA and their ilk away from our door step.
Personally I’m used to being proactive in cancelling races. Years ago I was the public relations director at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. In the winter, we operated under the constant threat of cancelling due to extreme cold and or unsafe track and road conditions.
Our track president Richard Cummings would make the decision to cancel racing the day before. As early in the day as possible. This was good timing for many reasons.
Most of the horses that raced at Turfway Park vanned in from other racetracks and training centers. This helped trainers save the time and expense of driving to Turfway with their horses and extra employees. Plus the roads were often hazardous so it was safety first for our fans and all involved.
It would be done before Lasix shots were administered too. Also our fans could avoid buying handicapping products and doing hours of work on the Turfway card.
What happens in Southern California will cast a shadow over the whole horse industry whether you like it or not. In this battle there is no us or them. If you love horse racing, you are in the same boat with the rest of us.
Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing. For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at www.racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on Facebook.com.