ARCADIA (CNS) - Santa Anita Park will conclude its winter meet today amid a protest calling for an end to horse racing because of the deaths of 30 horses at the track during the past six months.
The scheduled 11:15 a.m. protest was organized by Horseracing Wrongs before American Currency became the 30th horse to die at the Arcadia track since the meet began Dec. 26. The track averaged about 50 deaths per year from 2008-18, according to data from the California Horse Racing Board.
Track workers have said shutting down the industry would lead to thousands of job losses.
The 4-year-old gelding suffered a leg injury Saturday morning while exercising on Santa Anita's training track and was euthanized, according to Mike Marten, the horse racing board's public information officer.
American Currency was owned and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, a horse racing Hall of Famer who was banned from Santa Anita later Saturday by the Stronach Group, the track's owner.
“Individuals who do not embrace the new rules and safety measures that put horse and rider safety above all else will have no place at any Stronach Group racetrack,” a company's statement said.
“We regret that Mr. Hollendorfer's record in recent months at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields has become increasingly challenging and does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand. Effective immediately, Mr. Hollendorfer is no longer welcome to stable, race or train his horses at any of our facilities.”
Hollendorfer already had lost three horses at Santa Anita this season and two at Golden Gate Fields, also owned by The Stronach Group.
He told Ray Paulick, the publisher of the horse racing website Paulick Report, that American Currency was scratched from a race last week because he became sick.
“You have to wait a certain amount of days before you can work them. We turned in our slip to work him today and when he was starting off he took a bad step,” Hollendorfer said.
Hollendorfer said he had “gone over” American Currency “thoroughly like we do every horse every day.”
“He jogged on the road and jogged sound,” said Hollendorfer, North America's third-winningest thoroughbred trainer of all time . “As much as I'm involved, every time we lose a horse, it hurts deeply. The rest of the guys on the racetrack feel that way, too.”
Hollendorfer was said to be exploring his options for moving his horses in California, who number about 100.
“I thought the ruling was extreme and I don't really think I've done anything wrong, but I would be willing to step away from racing for a while,” Hollendorfer said. “I don't want to.”
Ed Allred, chairman and owner of Orange County's Los Alamitos Race Course, said his track would “gladly provide stalls to” Hollendorfer, whom he called “an unexcelled horseman.”
“We do not feel Hollendorfer should be a scapegoat for a problem which derives from a number of factors,” Allred said.
Racing was suspended at Santa Anita March 5 after the 4-year-old filly Lets Light the Way was injured during training and subsequently euthanized, the 21st horse to die at the track during the meet.
The unusually large amount of rain that fell on the Southland during the winter was mentioned as a possible factor in the deaths.
Former track superintendent Dennis Moore and Mick Peterson of Racing Services Testing Lab were brought in to conduct a thorough analysis of the main track, and officials repeatedly said they found no problems.
Racing resumed March 29 with a series of new measures in place intended to help bolster the safety of horses, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get permission in advance before putting a horse through a workout and purchasing diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
In April, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the creation of a task force to investigate the deaths of the horses at the track. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, both have called for racing to be suspended at the track until the deaths can be fully investigated.
At the direction of Gov. Gavin Newsom, Santa Anita and the CHRB recently created a “safety review team” that evaluates all horses at the track. The five-member panel of veterinarians and stewards has the authority to scratch a horse from a race if even one panelist questions the animal's fitness.
On June 9, responding to the 28th death of the season, the CHRB recommended the facility suspend racing for its final two weekends. Track officials declined, however, and hours later Truffalino, a 3-year-old filly, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack during a race conducted in temperatures that reached the upper 90s.
The CHRB 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 10 days public notice.
Following the conclusion of Sunday's races, Santa Anita will remain open until mid-July for horses training for races at other tracks, Mike Willman, its director of publicity, told City News Service. Its autumn meet is scheduled to begin Sept. 27.
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