ARCADIA (CNS) - An official with an animal rights group today called for a nationwide suspension of horse racing following the 33rd death of a horse at Santa Anita Park since Dec. 26.
The call by Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, came one day after the 5-year-old gelding Ky. Colonel collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack.
“Horses don't simply sustain broken bones and young horses shouldn't be dying of heart attacks,” Guillermo said. “There is plenty that's rotten with these deaths, and the longer it takes the DA to release her findings, the more horses will perish.
“California, New York -- where 25 horses have died at Belmont -- and all racing states should suspend racing until real answers are supplied and the carnage is ended.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey created a task force in April of what she described as “experienced deputy district attorneys and sworn peace officers with varied expertise within my office” to “thoroughly investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park.”
The task force has not satisfied PETA's concerns about what the group sees as inhumane treatment of the animals.
“Ky. Colonel's body should be taken directly to the Los Angeles (County) District Attorney's Office and laid on her doorstep,” Guillermo said.
“It's been seven months since the DA acted on PETA's request and launched an investigation. We still have no answers about the condition of the horses, the medications they were on, and the possible complicity of trainers and veterinarians in their deaths, and horses are still dropping like flies.”
Ky. Colonel suffered the apparent heart attack jogging on the inner training track Saturday morning, Mike Willman, Santa Anita Park's director of publicity, told City News Service.
Ky. Colonel last raced May 4, finishing second in a mile turf race at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, which like Santa Anita Park is owned by The Stronach Group. The layoff was longer than customary.
Ky. Colonel won five of his 20 races and finished second three times.
Racing at Santa Anita Park was halted for most of March while examinations were conducted on the track.
Races resumed April 4 after the state horse racing board approved a series of safety measures and The Stronach Group announced a series of steps aimed at bolstering the safety of horses at the track, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get advance permission before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
The Stronach Group and the California Horse Racing Board also created a “safety review team” that evaluates all horses at the track. The panel of veterinarians and stewards has the authority to scratch a horse from a race if even one panelist questions the animal's fitness.
The Stronach Group also announced a seven-member veterinary inspection team for the autumn meet. The team will “oversee every aspect of Santa Anita's training and racing operation,” a company official said.
There were dueling demonstrations Saturday outside Santa Anita Park.
About 50 workers and horse racing supporters held signs expressing their love of horses and support for the jobs the industry provides in California. Members of Horseracing Wrongs and other animal rights groups protested against the sport.
“Reform is working,” said John Valenzuela, president of Service Employees International Union of California Local 280 which represents betting clerks at several California tracks.
“The other side does not want to negotiate, they do not want to understand that we're doing everything we can to help and protect the animals.
Valenzuela said that for track workers, “Our horses (are) our lives. Why wouldn't we protect them?”
“From the day they're born to the day they're retired, they're treated like royalty,” Valenzuela said.
Animal rights activist Heather Wilson claimed 2,000 horses die at U.S. race tracks annually.
“You can take away any factor that you want -- the drugs, the track, the whips, the rain -- the bottom line is the one thing that remains constant is that horses are being killed,” Wilson told KTLA-TV Channel 5.
Santa Anita Park completed the seventh day of its 23-day autumn racing meet Sunday. It will be highlighted by the Breeders' Cup World Championships Nov. 1-2, the record 10th time it will be held at Santa Anita Park.
Photos: Getty Images