Santa Anita Facing Rash of Racehorse Deaths

Santa Anita Facing Rash of Racehorse Deaths

ARCADIA (CNS) - Santa Anita Park is scheduled to resume horse racing on Thursday in the wake of a rash of horse deaths that prompted the track to close this week for soil inspection.

On Sunday, Santa Anita announced it was closing the track on Monday and Tuesday for surface and soil sampling. Then another horse died during training Monday morning, the 19th death at Santa Anita since Dec. 26, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper also reported that during the same two-month period last year, 10 horses died at Santa Anita, in 2016-17 there were eight and in 2015-16 there were 14.

Charmer John, a 3-year-old gelding, was euthanized after he suffered a catastrophic injury to his left front fetlock on Monday.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns the racetrack, allegedly reversed a decision made earlier in the day Sunday and agreed to allow the track to be open Monday until 9 a.m. after some trainers, including Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer, objected to the closure and said they thought the track was safe.

“In conjunction with the California Horse Racing Board, Santa Anita Park has announced its main track will be closed for training beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday and all day Tuesday in order to fully evaluate sub-surface conditions such as moisture content and soil consistency,” the park said in a statement Sunday that made no mention of any horse deaths. “If the results of these efforts indicate the track is in prime condition, regularly scheduled training will resume Wednesday morning and live racing will proceed on Thursday.”

Sunday's statement went on to say that “in order to accommodate horsemen tomorrow, the main track will open for training beginning at 5 a.m., with two regular renovations scheduled at 6 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. Santa Anita's training track will be open each morning as planned, at 4:45 a.m. and will stay open until 10:30 a.m.”

Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said: “The decisions to close and reopen the track were made without consultation with our group and without us hearing the arguments, pro and con. With that said, we are committed to offering all the support we can to ensure the safety of our horses, jockeys and workers and stand ready to do whatever we can to help solve this tragic set of circumstances.”

Mick Peterson, a track and safety expert from the University of Kentucky, was brought in to perform testing and evaluate the racing surfaces.

The abnormal amount of rain that has fallen over Southern California this winter is considered a likely factor to any difficulty with the track, with some 11 1/2 inches of rain falling in February alone.

Santa Anita officials have not responded to a request for comment.

Battle of Midway, the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner of 2017, was euthanized Saturday morning after suffering injuries sustained during a workout, according to Santa Anita's Ed Golden.

“A five-year-old bay son of Smart Strike trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for Don Alberto Stable or WinStar Farm, LLC, Battle of Midway was being pointed to the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 30 with a possible start before that in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 9, (trainer Jerry) Hollendorfer had said just prior to the incident,” Golden said Saturday.

Battle of Midway won eight of 16 career starts, and was third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby.

Representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said they canceled a planned protest at Santa Anita race track Tuesday, “after meeting with track representatives who pledged to take definitive steps, including extending the review of medication records to horses who are in training -- and not just before races,” said David W. Perle, assistant media manager for PETA.

“Research sponsored by the California Horse Racing Board shows why horses break down and the fault lies with the trainers and veterinarians who drug horses with a cocktail of anti-inflammatories, painkillers, sedatives and more to keep them running when they should be recuperating,” Perle said. “This masks soreness and injury -- and injured horses are vulnerable to broken bones. Horses who require medication should not be anywhere near a track. PETA believes that there are innumerable problems with horse racing, but, as a bare minimum, all medications should be banned for at least a week before a horse races or trains, which would effectively stop lame horses from being able to run. PETA will continue to meet with Santa Anita officials in the coming days.”

Photo: Getty Images

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