Controversy continues at Santa Anita Park, where 29 racehorses have died or been euthanized due to injuries sustained during racing or training since the Arcadia, California, track’s race meet opened. Last weekend, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) recommended canceling the final days of the meet, which ends June 23. However, a statement from the track’s operators and two California Thoroughbred industry groups said racing will continue.
On June 8, 4-year-old gelding Formal Dude, running in Race 10, “came three-wide into the stretch, took a bad step nearing midstretch, (and) was pulled up and vanned off,” the Equibase chart said. The horse was subsequently euthanized due to his injury, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
After that fatality—the 28th since the meet opened Dec. 26, 2018—the CHRB recommended that Santa Anita management suspend the remainder of the race meet.
The Courier-Journal reported that, in a prepared statement, the CHRB said: “Under current law, the California Horse Racing Board does not have the authority to suspend a race meet or remove race dates from a current race meet without the approval of the racetrack operator or without holding a public meeting with ten days public notice.
“The chairman (Chuck Winner), vice chairman (Madeline Auerbach), and the executive director (Rick Baedeker) recommended to Santa Anita management that they suspend racing for the seven remaining race days but that they allow horses to continue to train during that period. This would provide the industry more time to fully implement announced safety initiatives and perhaps additional ones.
“It is our understanding that Santa Anita management, after consultation with certain other industry stakeholders, believes that for a variety of reasons, the future of California racing is best served by continuing to race.”
The next day, in the third race at Santa Anita, 3-year-old filly Truffalino became the meet’s 29th fatality. According to the Equibase chart, the filly “dropped back between horses on the second turn, gave way, and was pulled up in the stretch, then collapsed after the rider dismounted inside the sixteenth pole and was vanned off.” The Washington Post and other sources reported that the filly died due to a cardiac event.
Later on June 9 The Stronach Group (which owns and operates Santa Anita), the Thoroughbred Owners of California, and California Thoroughbred Trainers issued the following statement: “We are collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport—grooms, hot walkers, jockeys, exercise riders, starters, trainers, owners, track managers, and every horse wearing a bridle and a saddle—to reform and improve racing every day. After extensive consultation among all partners, Santa Anita Park will stay open through the end of its meet to see these reforms through.
“Since wide-sweeping reforms have been instituted at Santa Anita, catastrophic injuries have dropped considerably compared to earlier this meet, decreasing by 50% in racing and by more than 84% in training. To be clear, there are no acceptable losses, and every day we work toward ending all serious injuries. But the reality is that our improvements and changes have been effective.
“A detailed and serious epidemiological investigation of all track accidents is underway and will continue with the greatest urgency. Track management, owners, trainers, and veterinarians are re-doubling their vigilance and close supervision of both training and racing protocols and will consider all enhancements to the sweeping new protocols already introduced. We have great respect for (California) Governor (Gavin) Newsom and the CHRB, and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to discuss these issues.”
On June 10 Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who initially called for racing at Santa Anita to be suspended in March, issued a statement once again asking the track management to halt racing immediately.
“This isn’t an isolated year for Santa Anita,” she said in the statement. “During the ’17-18 season, 44 horses died; during the ’16-17 season 64 horses died; and during the ’15-16 season, 62 horses died. That’s 199 dead horses at one track in four racing seasons. Something is seriously wrong—whether it’s the track itself or problems with training or medication. No one seems to know, yet training and racing continues.
“I hail passage in the California State Senate of SB 469, the bill to authorize CHRB to suspend a racetrack’s license in order to protect health and safety of horses and riders. I urge the assembly to pass the bill as soon as possible so more horses don’t die.
“We need to take a long pause and do a thorough review of Santa Anita: the track, the practices employed there, what medicines are used, how horses are trained,” she said. “We need to get to the bottom of what’s going on and why so many horses are dying.”
Breeders’ Cup Considering Options
Meanwhile, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships are currently scheduled to take place at Santa Anita Nov. 1-2. However, earlier this year, Breeders’ Cup officials started looking at contingency plans in response to the horse deaths, the Courier-Journal and other sources reported.
The Breeders’ Cup board of directors is scheduled to meet June 27 and is expected to discuss the 2019 event.