Benson Helps Implement Santa Antia's New Protocols

POSTED ON  |  20-07-2019

Dionne Benson
It takes courage to ride an eventer, accompanying your horse over a cross-country course while tackling a barrage of obstacles. Dr. Dionne Benson does that in her spare time, riding one of several off-the-track Thoroughbreds she has repurposed. Not that Benson has much free time these days. She recently jumped from executive director and chief operating officer of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium to the newly created position of chief veterinary officer for The Stronach Group.

Benson now oversees the veterinary regulatory needs of the racetracks owned by TSG, which includes Santa Anita Park. As anyone in the racing industry knows, a rash of equine fatalities spurred by a very wet winter beset Santa Anita throughout the first half of 2019. Once animal rights' activists began piling on, abetted by mainstream media that seemed to relish reporting the bad news, the track's very existence was at stake. "Right now, it's kind of been crisis mode," acknowledged Benson.

Santa Anita ended its 2018-19 meeting June 23 with 30 fatalities (a combination of deaths from both racing and training) since the track opened last Dec. 26. Santa Anita had closed through much of March and rehired Dennis Moore, its former track superintendent, as a consultant. The track brought in Dr. Mick Peterson to conduct scientific testing of the track surface.

In addition to its work on both the dirt and turf courses, Santa Anita instituted a series of safety protocols that range from restrictions on medications to additional checks of horses being entered in races and those working in the mornings. The goal, according to TSG officials, was "to establish a culture of health and safety throughout all of the racetracks, creating checks and balances, intervention strategies, and working together to identify factors to help mitigate risk to horses and riders."

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