Del Mar has team of veterinarians looking out for horses' welfare

POSTED ON  |  07-08-2019

Dana Steed Del Mar
Del Mar has upped its veterinarian crew to seven who examine horses in wake of Santa Anita troubles. Dr. Alina Vale grew up with horses in the backyard of a house off the dirt “surfer’s road” that once extended west from Rancho Bernardo to the coast. Today, she lives not far from her mother and that childhood home, where she still has horses, surrounded by the housing growth that became 4S Ranch. She was a “horse crazy girl” who was a member of the Pony Club and participated in various competitions, including endurance riding. As a kid, she hung out with the dressage and jumping crowd. When the subject of horse racing came up, people sneered and spoke in scornful tones.

“I was quite impressionable, and when someone said horse racing was cruel, that’s what I thought,” Vale said. “I never second-guessed it, though the horses that I got off the race track were very healthy, happy horses who had huge potential for the future.” Now 34, Vale has a more informed perspective as she settles into a seat in the Del Mar grandstand each workday summer morning at 4:30. She’ll be in that spot until 10 a.m., scrutinizing as many as 200 horses as they run workouts at the Del Mar summer meet.

A veterinarian who has worked with thoroughbreds for the last decade, Vale now has her highest profile and, arguably, most demanding job. Amid an outcry about the deaths of 30 thoroughbreds in training and racing during the winter/spring meet at Santa Anita, the California Horse Racing Board instituted changes in safety protocols that included the use of a five-person panel to review every horse before it races.

This summer, Del Mar took its safety measures a step further by employing — for the first time — two veterinarians who observe the workouts from separate posts above the race track. Those vets are Vale and Dr. Laurie Bohannon, 47, and they are among a team of seven state- or Del Mar-hired doctors who observe and test horses from the time they leave their stalls through potential drug testing after races are completed.

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