Horse racing off and on

Horses jump out the gate at Penn National racecourse.

Horse racing is continuing in many parts of the world despite the Coronavirus threat. However, more race venues are beginning to cease racing. While these track closures continue, there is great concern about what racehorse owners will do with horses who are not racing. It is a costly enterprise maintaining a racehorse, and no one has a clue how long this will go on.

Here’s news of a recent racecourse closure. The Guardian reports:

Fears for animal welfare as first Australian state bans horse and dog racing amid coronavirus crisis

Tasmania has banned horse and greyhound racing “effective immediately” in the latest wave of shutdowns intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus, while the racing industry in other states is quietly trying to make arrangements to house thousands of furloughed racehorses should the ban become national.

Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein announced the ban on Thursday, cancelling all race meetings for four weeks but allowing training facilities and people responsible for the care and wellbeing of the animals to continue operating.

Explaining the decision, which followed an outbreak of Covid-19 in the regional hub of Devonport, Gutwein said he was concerned that large groups of people were continuing to gather at the races, even though spectators have been banned.

New South Wales Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi has called on other states to follow Tasmania’s lead, saying it was “absolutely crazy that greyhound and horse racing is continuing in the middle of a global pandemic”.

Other Cancellations

 Ireland shut down racing last week, following the United Kingdom. Hong Kong and Japan are still running.

Racing Victoria said it would continue racing after Victoria introduced tough stage-three social distancing laws this week. Jamie Stier, the executive general manager of integrity services, said the industry was “continually reviewing our biosecurity protocols” and “learning from our collective experiences over the past three weeks”.

Both thoroughbred and harness racing was suspended last week due to coronavirus scares, but the sport resumed when tests were returned negative.

Churchill Downs’ blog,, published the following on Mar. 12:

“A number of jurisdictions are conducting racing without spectators, including Hong Kong, Australia*, and Japan.

“Live racing has been canceled in South Korea (through April 5), France (at least through April 15), Ireland (through April 19)**, New Zealand (through April 21), South Africa (through April 17), India (all tracks for an indefinite period), South America (Uruguay indefinitely), and Mexico (indefinitely)”.

*Except Tasmania. **Shut down last week (see above). Our notes.


There are 35 active racetracks in the USA. It is hard to keep up, but there are some running. Most of those are racing without spectators. Santa Anita was recently shut down by the Los Angeles County Health Department. Other racing in California continues.

Racehorses in peril

RSPCA chief scientist Bidda Jones said it was “inevitable” that horse racing would be suspended in Australia.

“Nobody quite knows what the capacity is for farms to take horses leaving racing because we’ve never been in a position whereby, if there was a shutdown of racing, so many would be leaving at one time,” he said.

Jones added however that a shutdown posed “a huge risk” to horse welfare and the industry needed to prepare so it was not attempting to retire a large number of horses at once.

Julie Fiedler from Horse SA said that widespread job losses caused by the shutdown of the hospitality industry and other coronavirus control measures would cause a “silent animal welfare tsunami” as people became unable to afford to care for their horses. Major saleyards such as Echuca and Pakenham in Victoria have suspended their horse sales, leaving knackeries the only option for a quick sale.

“If it goes on for an extended period of time, people are going to have to reevaluate the cost of keeping a horse,” she said.

At the mercy of racing

So what should and what will horse racing do about the horses? Here racehorses are, yet again, in peril at the mercy of racing.

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Related Reading

» Despite coronavirus lockdown, horses were still racing at Sacramento’s Cal Expo. Until now. Sacramento Bee. 1 April 20.

Ky Thoroughbred industry refers to breeding as assembly line production

Protective Thoroughbred mare and young foal huddle together in pasture.

Check out this tweet. How do you feel about comparing the production of horses to the assembly line production of automobiles?

Santa Anita cancels horse racing on orders from Health Dept

John Henry statue at Santa Anita Race Park. Unattributed image.

L.A. County Health Dept suspends horse racing due to COVID-19 outbreak

ART WILSON reporting for the SUN writes:

Santa Anita was forced to temporarily suspend racing by the Los Angeles County Health Department on Friday, less than an hour before its scheduled first race.

The track had been closed to the public since its March 14 program, with only essential personnel allowed on the grounds, and was preparing for an eight-race program Friday and two more days of racing this weekend when it was forced to pull the plug.

“In accordance with instructions received from Los Angeles County Health Department, Santa Anita Park will temporarily close for live racing effective immediately in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” track management said in a statement.

“We apologize for the late notice affecting today’s racing program, but Santa Anita is abiding by the instructions issued this morning by the California Horse Racing Board to operate under the sanction of the local health authorities.

“At Santa Anita Park, the health, safety and welfare of every person and every horse in our community is our top priority. At this time, there are no known cases of COVID-19 at Santa Anita Park. This measure is being taken in response to a mandate from L.A. County officials.”

The Stronach Group’s second track in California, Golden Gate Fields, continued to race Friday. Los Alamitos, which runs a night quarter-horse meet Friday-Sunday with thoroughbred races sprinkled in, also was scheduled to race Friday, albeit with no spectators. Read more »

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Study to examine combined use of Lasix, Bisphosphonates

Racehorse tied in stall.

The BloodHorse reports:

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center have planned a multidisciplinary study to explore the effects of the combined use of Lasix and bisphosphonates in racehorses.

Led by Dr. Mary Robinson, assistant professor of veterinary pharmacology and director of the Equine Pharmacology Laboratory at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center, this landmark study is poised to be the first comprehensive analysis of the two drugs that, when used concurrently could be capable of diminishing bone integrity and compromising cardiac function in racehorses. These effects have the potential to contribute to catastrophic injuries on the racetrack.

“The beauty of this study is that it will use a multi-disciplinary approach to assess the interaction between these two drugs that we know are administered to racehorses,” said Robinson. “By coupling our state-of-the art imaging technologies with the scope of expertise among the other investigators on this project, we will be able to produce solid, unbiased data that will address some of the unknowns surrounding the use of these medications.”

Nearly 85% of racehorses in the United States receive furosemide, commonly referred to as Lasix, to prevent or reduce the severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. Also used in human medicine to treat heart conditions, the drug is known to cause a short-term loss of calcium and increase the risk of fractures in human patients. But because horses can quickly recover from a calcium deficit, the researchers speculate that Lasix alone is unlikely to be the root cause for catastrophic, racing-related breakdowns which, according to The Jockey Club Equine Injury Database, occur at a rate of approximately 1.6 in 1,000 starts. 

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Bisphosphonates are a group of medicines that slow down or prevent bone loss, strengthening bones. Bisphosphonates inhibit osteoclasts which are responsible for breaking down and reabsorbing minerals such as calcium from bone (the process is known as bone resorption).

Lasix (Salix), also known as furosemide, described as an anti-bleeding medication, is used by veterinarians in horseracing to prevent respiratory bleeding in horses running at high speed. Blood entering the lungs during high physical activity can cause a pulmonary hemorrhage and result in death. It’s no secret that furosemide is both effective in preventing or lessening exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, or that the drug has been shown to make horses lose weight through dehydration—a side effect many people believe makes the substance attractive as a performance enhancer.

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