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July 1999 Editorial- California Thoroughbred
John C. Harris

Just Do It!!

For over 3 years the racing industry has had definitive research showing that the use of front toe grabs is detrimental to race horses. The risk of essentially killing a horse due to a fatal suspensory apparatus failure is 16 times greater with regular toe grabs compared to no toe grabs. So why are toe grabs still being used by 90% of horses racing? Because they probably do in fact enhance performance. If some horses are using them, the theory is that your horse needs to use them to compete. Most of my own horses currently race in front toe grabs. But isn’t there a better way to approach and solve the problem? Sure there is. What needs to happen is to ban toe grabs for all race starters. This would give everyone a level playing field and hurt no one. Horses could still run in rim shoes, which have been found to be much safer.

Earlier this year, I thought that this was going to finally happen. I was at a meeting in which Joe Harper, the general manager of Del Mar, announced that, working with all parties, Del Mar was planning to disallow the use of front toe grabs in any of its races for the 1999 season. Hallelujah! That is just what the industry needed. Someone needed to step up to the plate and say that the welfare of horses is important and the millions of dollars spent of research should be put to use. Del Mar was the perfect place to do it, as most of the starters there are not shipping in, and ample notice could go out to horsemen so that they could adjust their shoeing. No one needs to train in front toe grabs, and this new program could get off and running in fine fashion where the turf meets the surf.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Apparently a few prominent trainers have unilaterally vetoed the idea. Their theory is either that the research is no good, and/or that "no one is telling me how to shoe my horses". The Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) have been reluctant to force the issue by insisting that this be part of the Horsemen’s Agreement even on an experimental basis. This is a great opportunity for them to make a bold move forward by getting the concept into the Horsemen’s Agreement that they sign with Del Mar. This year’s agreement has been signed, but it could still be bilaterally amended.

Del Mar says that they will agree to the no toe grab provision, but they want a consensus. They are apparently concerned that some prominent trainer will refuse to have their horses compete at Del Mar because of this new policy. I really can’t believe that would happen, but understand their concern. I am hoping that Del Mar has the dedication to this issue to take a strong stance knowing that it may be controversial.

California Thoroughbred Breeders Association has passed an unanimous resolution urging all concerned to, for the good of the horses and racing in general, eliminate front toe grabs. Obviously this is not a panacea to prevent all injuries. Racing horses always does involve some risk as most sports do. But in utilizing the research that we do have, we are at least eliminating some risks. .

I urge everyone reading this to get involved. In time, we can probably get the CHRB to make this a racing rule, but that will take months and I don’t think that common sense things should have to wait for regulations. Plus some trial period can allow everyone to get a feel for how it will work before some hard and fast rule is imposed from above. Contact both the TOC and Del Mar and let them know how you feel about this issue. Your horses will really appreciate it. We can prevent needless injuries and deaths to many horses if somehow we can get the mindset in place to "Just Do It".

 Let me know your thoughts on this issue. Email me at johnharris@harrisfarms.com. You can also contact TOC and Del Mar.


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