Horse Galloping

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Some prominent thoroughbred racing organizations are calling for changes to the industry ahead of the 145th Kentucky Derby after a rash of equine deaths at Santa Anita Park. 

The Jockey Club, an organization charged with registering and tracking thoroughbred race horses throughout North America, is leading the push for drastic changes to a number of different aspects of horse racing; in particular, how medications are administered.

Since December, 23 horses have died at the storied California race track, leaving industry leaders concerned about perception problems as the Triple Crown season nears. 

"What's probably unprecedented for lots of us is the coverage: the mainstream coverage of the events and the social media coverage," Jockey Club President and CEO Jim Gagliano said.

In March, The Jockey Club issued a white paper calling for dramatic changes in the industry particularly focused on drug and medication use on horses. 

"We're calling for better regulation of the sport from a medication point of view," Gagliano said in an interview Tuesday. "Right now, that's done by 38 different states and by 38 different racing commissions with differing standards."

Gagliano said a better practice would be to create a single, independent anti-doping authority that would be responsible for overseeing that administration of a drug control program for the thoroughbred industry. 

"We have long believed that horses should only run when they are free from the influence of medication," he said. "It's been embraced in some quarters, and others, it's been opposed. It's change, and it's getting a federal bill passed, which is no easy trick."

To this point, no official cause has been determined to be the cause of deaths at Santa Anita. Many trainers blame a deluge of rain not typically seen in southern California. 

"I know there's ongoing investigations by the California Racing Commission, and I'm sure they'll get to the bottom of it, but there's no doubt that (medication) has been a contributing factor," Gagliano said. 

Other aspects of change The Jockey Club is urging include better track analysis and better pre-race examinations. 

"We think this is a tipping point," Gagliano said. "This is America's oldest sport, and change has not come fast. For it to thrive into the future, these are the kind of decisions we need to make." 

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Travis Ragsdale joined WDRB in Jan. 2015. He focuses primarily on investigative reporting involving police, local government and infrastructure. He can be reached at 502-585-0817