LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The horse racing industry has been under intense scrutiny this year after more than 30 equine deaths at Santa Anita and nine at Keeneland. Racing officials plan to implement new reforms in the sport.
"We are continuing to implement a number of reforms and things that we're able to do here on the ground even through this race meet," said Keenealnd Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Vince Gabbert. "We continue to add measures to ensure that we are providing the safest conditions possible for all of our athletes that are on our racetrack."
Some of those reforms were on display for the first time this Fall. Keeneland added a racing steward dedicated exclusively to horse safety, and now an on-call veterinarian is required to keep a close eye on the horses from the rack, all the way back to the barn. Keeneland officials plan to propose more changes next week when they meet with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
"For medication reforms, for the requirement for electronic veterinary records be registered with us prior to running, so that we can go back and look at medical history," Gabbert told LEX 18's Mike Valente.
These changes probably won't do much to appease animal rights activists, who want an outright ban of the sport.
"We want to draw attention to the inherent cruelty at Keeneland and horse racing in general," said activist Kat Wahbam. About 50 people are expected to gather at the Versailles Road, Man-O-War entrance Saturday to protest the sport of horse racing.
According to the American Horse Council Foundation, the horse industry, 7.2 million horses with race horses accounting for almost 1.3 million, contributes approximately $50 billion in direct economic impact to the U.S. economy and has a direct employment impact of 988,394 jobs. Additionally, the industry itself contributes $38 billion in direct wages, salaries, and benefits. According to the American Horse Racing Council Foundation's 2017 numbers, the total contribution of the horse industry to the U.S. economy is $122 billion, with a total employment impact of 1.7 million jobs.