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Tough call, but BC needed to stay at Santa Anita

Tough call, but BC needed to stay at Santa Anita

If Breeders' Cup and Santa Anita are confident in safety protocols, running there in November is the only way to demonstrate it
Tough call, but BC needed to stay at Santa Anita
The 2019 Breeders' Cup is scheduled to remain at Santa Anita despite a rash of horse deaths there since December.
Photographer: RICHARD MACKSON/USA TODAY SPORTS

Cavalier.

Irresponsible.

Arrogant.

Insane.

It's easy to characterize the Breeders' Cup board of directors' unanimous decision to remain at Santa Anita Park, despite an ongoing controversy over the number of horses that have died in training and racing at California's jewel of a racetrack since Dec. 26, with any of those words, and more.

I have to say I was surprised at first that the BC was choosing to stay at Santa Anita, considering the incredible risk the Breeders' Cup is assuming. It's a risk -- calculated though it may be -- that could threaten not only the event, but the entire sport of horse racing, which has endured an ever-growing fusillade of criticism as Santa Anita has been drawn into a national spotlight that rarely seeks racing otherwise.

But I get it, this decision. And part of me doesn't have a big problem with it.

The risk is plainly apparent.

In a world of media consumption in which context quickly falls by the wayside in favor of sensationalized quick bites and instant opinion, the number 30 has gained a grim and unshakable connection to Santa Anita. That's how many horses died there during the four months of the winter/spring meet, a tally that clicked ever upward and stopped at 30 when the season concluded on Sunday.

Because it's horse racing, the Breeders' Cup has not been immune to calamity, most notably in 1990 at Belmont Park. Mr. Nickerson suffered an apparent heart attack and died on the track in the first race, the Sprint, to be followed by one of the darkest moments in North American racing history, the great Go for Wand breaking down in the homestretch of the Distaff. With a catastrophic injury deemed untreatable, she was euthanized by lethal injection on the track.

But this year is different. There's a backdrop already in place well in advance of the BC races, not just a curtain that will come down after the scene.

The Breeders' Cup forges ahead in the face of not only the objections of animal-rights activists and glare of national media, but the attention of high-ranking politicians like U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein and California Gov. Gavin Newsom and a task force from the Los Angeles District Attorney.

If a horse breaks down at Santa Anita, there will be hell to pay.

Here's the thing, though: If Santa Anita and the Breeders' Cup have genuine confidence in the  added safety protocols and policies that the track has implemented, and will continue to explore, they need to stay there.

It's easy to say it's simply not worth it.

It's easy to assume that this is a cavalier and irresponsible decision, that racing is putting financial considerations ahead of the welfare of horses.

You can call it arrogant, a damn-the-torpedoes, don't-push-us-around response to critics.

I find it hard to believe that that's any type of motivation, especially in light of the tremendous pressure that will come to bear on the event and the venue in November (Santa Anita's fall meet begins on Sept. 27).

Still, my first reaction when I saw the news Thursday was, "Wow. They're actually staying," which may have been a nearly universal one.

But these people know what's at stake. And they're working on it.

There's not a lot of tread left on this point, but the fact that the sport in general and Santa Anita specifically are pursuing ways to be safer will never be enough to satisfy the vocal minority that wants racing to just go away forever. The sport isn't going to change those minds, no matter what it does.

The Breeders' Cup has made its play. They didn't have to stay at Santa Anita, but doing so sends a message that they firmly believe they can put on a safe show there.

Now it's up to Santa Anita to get its ... stuff ... together already.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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