Santa Anita Sees 29th Horse Death; Track Denies Request to Halt Racing


ARCADIA (CNS) - Hours after officials at Santa Anita Park denied a request by the California Horse Racing Board to suspend racing in the wake of the 28th horse death at the track this season, a 3-year-old filly reportedly collapsed and died Sunday during a race conducted in near-triple digit temperatures.

The death of Truffalino was reported Sunday by the Daily Racing Form, which said the horse pulled up inside the eighth pole and collapsed after jockey Joe Talamo dismounted.

“They think it was a heart attack,” Mandella said, according to the Daily Racing Form. “I don't know. I wish I had an answer.”

Sunday's heat in Arcadia reached a high of 97 degrees.

Santa Anita officials did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of the death, but track officials said earlier in the day they expected to release a statement on Saturday's death, in which Formal Dude -- a 4-year-old gelding -- was euthanized after suffering an injury during that day's 10th race, Mike Marten, spokesman for the CHRB, told City News Service.

“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 race track operator or without holding a public meeting with ten days public notice,” the CHRB said in a statement.

“The Chairman, Vice Chairman and the Executive Director 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 CHRB's next scheduled meeting is June 20 at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.

The number of deaths at the track have prompted calls from animal- advocacy groups and some politicians for a halt in racing at Santa Anita, or even to ban the sport in California altogether.

“Santa Anita averages 50 dead horses a year. It is business as usual,” Heather Wilson, an organizer with Horseracing Wrongs -- a New York- based nonprofit that is working to eradicate horse racing in the U.S. -- told City News Service on Sunday. “The general public must understand that horse racing kills horses at every single track. This is not isolated to Santa Anita.

“We are asking that all horse racing be suspended in California,” Wilson said. “We demand that a bill be introduced in the state Legislature that will abolish horse racing. Senator Feinstein has asked repeatedly for Santa Anita to be shut down, and The Stronach Group defy her every time. No more reform, no more investigations, no more subpoenas. This `sport' needs to end.”

The Stronach Group is the company that owns Santa Anita Park.

“Either the rules aren't strong enough or the rules aren't being followed, but whatever the reason for the deaths of two more horses, Santa Anita needs to listen to the California Horse Racing Board and shut down,” People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said Sunday. “It should not reopen until full-leg scan equipment is in place, since most pelvis injuries also show lesions in the legs; the dirt track has been replaced with a safer synthetic surface; and the district attorney's investigation into trainers and veterinarians is complete.”


The Stronach Group announced today in a joint statement with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers group, that Santa Anita will finish the racing season as scheduled. The news release calls attention to reforms currently in operation throughout Santa Anita.

“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,” the statement said. “After extensive consultation among all partners, Santa Anita Park will stay open through the end of its meet to see these reforms through.”

The efforts already were paying dividends, according to the statement.

“Since wide-sweeping reforms have been instituted at Santa Anita, catastrophic injuries have dropped considerably compared to earlier this meet, decreasing by 50 percent in racing and by more than 84 percent in training,” it said. “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.”

In April, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced she had created a task force to investigate the deaths of the horses at the track.

In a letter to the horse racing board on April 2, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein called for racing to be suspended at Santa Anita “until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated,” a call she repeated last month as the deaths continued.

Racing was halted at the track for most of March while examinations were conducted on and around the track.

Racing resumed April 4 after the board approved a series of measures, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get permission in advance before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.

No further deaths occurred until May 17, when an unraced 3-year-old gelding named Commander Coil suffered a fatal shoulder injury while galloping during training.

“Equine shoulder injuries are rare, especially for a horse that is galloping as opposed to breezing or racing,” said a statement from TSG. “A comprehensive evaluation will be completed to understand what might have caused this uncommon injury.”

Two days later, Spectacular Music, a 3-year-old gelding, sustained a pelvic injury while running his first career race and was put down.

“The Stronach Group remains committed to operating Santa Anita Park with stringent protocols that prioritize the health and safety of horses and riders first and foremost,” TSG said in a statement that day.

On May 26, a 9-year-old gelding named Kochees was euthanized after suffering a leg injury during a race the previous day.

On June 5, River Derby, an unraced 2-year-old colt, received a shoulder injury during a gallop at Santa Anita and later was euthanized.

Track spokesman Mike Willman said the horse initially was examined at Santa Anita but the shoulder injury was not diagnosed until it was taken to Chino Valley Equine Hospital, where it was put down.

The horse's trainer, Ruben Gomez, said in a news report the fractured shoulder “can be a common injury in babies. He just came up from Florida.”

Photos: Getty Images

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