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Breeders’ Cup Chairman Adamant Event will Stay at Santa Anita

Despite 22 horse deaths at Santa Anita that forced a closure, Breeders’ Cup chairman Fred Hertrich III says the event will remain at the California track.

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By: Dave Briggs |

Despite 22 horse deaths at Santa Anita since Boxing Day that forced the temporary closure of the track, Breeders’ Cup chairman Fred Hertrich III said this year’s Cup event slated for the California facility will “absolutely not” be moved to another location, though it could return to Woodbine one day.

Naturally, for now, Hertrich’s focus is very much on Santa Anita, the Los Angeles-area track that was slated to restart its live schedule on March 29th after a range of new initiatives were instituted by its owner, The Stronach Group. Though The Stronach Group initially wanted an immediate ban on Lasix, an agreement with The Thoroughbred Owners of California means that this year just the maximum amount of Lasix allowed will decrease from 10 cc to 5 cc. That means Lasix will still be allowed in the Breeders’ Cup, scheduled for Nov. 1 and 2.

“We’re working with Santa Anita and the industry to make it the safest venue that we can possibly have. It’s very, very, very important for the industry in total to get together and not just make some statement that we’re going to do this today or that today. That’s not the answer. This is a huge issue that we all have to get behind and figure out,” Hertrich told Canadian Thoroughbred.

“There are huge challenges. I’ve been on conference calls for the last two days, all day long, and I’ll be back on this afternoon. The industry is trying to get their arms around this and do whatever is best for the animals and the safety of the jockeys and on and on.

“It’s very complex. It’s not just one issue. You can’t just say it’s lame horses, you can’t just say it’s the track condition, you can’t just say it’s medication…there are so many things. They’ve got the top scientists in the world out there. They are taking this surface down and putting it back together. Again, what people will never understand is that is just one component. There are many, many things.”

Hertrich said the reality is it’s an industry-wide issue and horse deaths on the track, like concussions in the National Football League, cannot be completely eradicated.

“Horses are going to break down. They are going to have a frailty in a joint. They are going to have a bone disease that we don’t know about until we do an autopsy after the fact. Horses will die on the training track and on the racetrack. Is that good? Absolutely not, but what can we do to make that environment as safe as possible? That’s what we all have to strive to do.

“(The NFL) will never eliminate, totally, the concussion. What they’re doing is putting a medical person upstairs watching the game, one on each sideline and a medical tent where you’ve got people going through the test immediately… They’ve done a lot to correct that issue, but these athletes today are big and strong and there will always be concussions in the NFL today. In the end, it’s what can we do to make it as safe as we possibly can?

Hertrich said the solution to reducing horse deaths isn’t simple, will require the industry to work together and won’t come quickly.

“Can you sit down with 20 people and write down something that is going to be the cure in two weeks? Absolutely not, but can we strive to get there? The answer is yes if we work to do it in the same direction,” he said.

As for the Breeders’ Cup returning to Woodbine one day, Hertrich said it won’t happen quickly, but he does not rule it out. In 1996, Woodbine became the first track outside of the United States to play host to the Cup.

“Woodbine (CEO) Jim Lawson has said to me, ‘Fred, what do we have to do?’ So, they’re interested,” Hertrich said. “So then it comes down to the venues we have and the things that we need. If they can deliver that — and, let’s face it, what they are doing up there right now with spending I-don’t-even-know-what on their entertainment complex… I would never discount Woodbine because of the plans for what they have with the entire facility. I think it’s exciting.

“It’s going to be quite a complex. The train station, when you can bring people out from Toronto, is an easy transition. And the airport is the greatest thing in the world there. You get off the airplane and you’re five minutes from the racetrack, so that’s fabulous. They have everything they need, it’s just putting it together. Weather is going to always be the challenge… we cannot change the dates and weather will always be a question.”

That said, Hertrich said planning for host tracks happens many years in advance and there are already a handful of other tracks ahead of Woodbine in the queue.

“What occurs with the Breeders’ Cup is that we plan that three or four years out. We had to do that for our sponsors and for the venues where we’re going, to line everything up for the main events. We get programs with the hotels, museums, art galleries, we get the whole thing lined up way in advance,” Hertrich said.

“We have racetracks and jurisdictions that would like to be on the list. We now have Santa Anita this year, we come back to Keeneland, we go back to Del Mar and now we’re negotiating for ’22 with Churchill. Then, Santa Anita is back in the mix and whatever. So now we have three other jurisdictions that would like to be in the mix.”

Hertrich said the Maryland Jockey Club has also expressed interest in playing host to the Breeders’ Cup and that might happen sooner than Woodbine. So, it will be awhile before the Cup returns to Canada, if it happens at all.

That said, Hertrich personally likes a lot of what he sees happening in Ontario. So much so, the breeding operation he runs mostly in partnership with Woodbine board member John Fielding, plans to breed more in the province. The pair were the breeders of three 2018 Grade 1 winners — Catholic Boy, Rushing Fall and Diversify.

“With the program going on in Ontario, we know there are going to be more Ontario-breds and I think we’re going to have better stallions go to Ontario because of the program. So, for instance, we are going to have Ontario-breds on the thoroughbred side for the first time because we believe that program is that good. So, that’s great,” Hertrich said.

Whether it is Santa Anita, racing in Ontario or the prospects of the Breeders’ Cup returning to Woodbine, Fred Hertrich said he refuses to let the pessimists get him down.