California’s governor called on a racetrack owned by The Stronach Group to end its racing season early after of rash of thoroughbred deaths, adding pressure to a company that is in the middle of a bitter family dispute between Frank Stronach and his daughter, Belinda Stronach.
Governor Gavin Newsom publicly requested a halt to racing at Santa Anita Park, near Los Angeles, to allow independent veterinarians to investigate the health of racehorses.
Nearly 30 thoroughbreds have died at the track in Arcadia, Calif., since the start of the racing season in late December. The deaths have sparked an investigation by the industry’s regulator and the local District Attorney’s office and left a cloud of uncertainty over Santa Anita’s plans to host the Breeders’ Cup, among the most important U.S. racing events, in November.
“Enough is enough,” Mr. Newsom said Tuesday, days after two more horses died at the track on the weekend.
Last week, the California Horse Racing Board also asked The Stronach Group to shut down the park for the remainder of the racing season, which ends June 23. But in a joint statement on Sunday, The Stronach Group, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers said they intended to leave the track open.
Santa Anita briefly shut down in March when the death toll of horses reached 23. The Stronach Group said it has since implemented widespread reforms, including changes to medications, that have cut major injuries to thoroughbreds in half. “To be clear, there are no acceptable losses, and every day we work toward ending all serious injuries,” the company said. “But the reality is that our improvements and changes have been effective.”
Santa Anita is one of six U.S. racetracks owned by the Canadian company, which has been embroiled in a series of legal battles since last fall.
Mr. Stronach, the founder of Magna International Inc., and his wife, Elfriede, have asked an Ontario court to remove their daughter, Belinda Stronach, as chair and president of The Stronach Group and put Mr. Stronach back in charge. Ms. Stronach alleges that her father squandered nearly $800-million of the family fortune by investing in ventures such as a grass-fed cattle ranch and a pumpkin-seed oil business.
Mr. Stronach alleged in filings with the Ontario Superior Court last month that The Stronach Group inflated its profits and that Ms. Stronach had improperly expensed millions in expenses to the company for her daughter’s show-jumping activities.
In an interview in May with weekly horse-racing magazine Blood Horse, Mr. Stronach blamed the thoroughbred deaths at Santa Anita on company management. “They did not implement the medication protocol program,” he said. “They did not implement plans I had to improve the racetrack." The company has denied all the allegations.
The Stronach Group had also been locked in a battle with city officials in Baltimore over plans to move the Preakness Stakes, an annual thoroughbred race, from a Stronach-owned track in the city. But on Wednesday, Baltimore officials said the city had reached an agreement with Ms. Stronach and withdrawn a lawsuit against the company.