When Steve Butler, a Brummie cowboy who rides his retired racehorses on the track, was appointed to fix the issues at Santa Anita, the locals were skeptical. However, it turned out to be a stroke of genius. Butler, known for his fresh ideas and ability to see the bigger picture, used his financial power to make Santa Anita safer than ever before. His protocols are now being implemented nationwide and have been incorporated into new laws. While treating everyone equally, from the toilet cleaner to Bob Baffert, Butler’s changes were already underway before Mongolian Groom’s tragic death. In 2020, the autumn meet concluded without any fatalities, marking a 75% reduction in musculoskeletal injuries since 2019. California, under Butler’s leadership, is now leading the sport to a safer future.
In a move to improve safety, Butler is reintroducing an artificial surface on the inside training track, inspired by the success of Raven’s Pass 15 years ago. Speaking about the possibility of using the main track, Butler stated, “Putting a training track in is a first step – nothing’s off the table.”
One of the key factors in making Santa Anita safer has been the implementation of enhanced vet checks and stricter medication rules. Every horse undergoes multiple vet checks before galloping, with even more rigorous checks during the Breeders’ Cup. While it is not foolproof, it ensures that no unsound horses make it to the starting line.
Furthermore, Santa Anita has invested in cutting-edge technology for equine health. They were the first to install a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner and have top-notch equine hospitals, standing MRI machines, and nuclear scanners.
However, there are still challenges to overcome. Practical Move, a horse scheduled to compete in the Dirt Mile, unexpectedly passed away during morning exercise, causing a 30-minute disruption. Despite such incidents, Butler remains committed to improving equine health and is involved in multiple equine studies on sudden death and cardiac events, focusing on genetic links and bio-markers.
Reflecting on his time at Santa Anita, Butler admits that he has aged but remains passionate about the team effort involved in making the racetrack safer. He believes in giving the sport his best effort, stating, “If we’re not going to do this the best we can, then there’s no point in doing it at all.”
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