It was a grim trifecta and a familiar result for Santa Anita Park: Three horses died in three days this past weekend at California’s best known and most scrutinized racetrack.
All three horses were euthanized, two after breaking their ankles in turf races and the third after colliding with another horse while training on dirt, racing officials said.
The latest spate of fatalities at the track began Friday, when a 6-year-old gelding named Harliss broke an ankle in a turf race and was euthanized, according to racing officials.
Then on Saturday, a 5-year-old gelding named Uncontainable also broke an ankle in a claiming race on turf and was euthanized. The third death came Sunday when Tikkun Olam, a 4-year-old gelding who had won US$40,743 in nine races, collided with another horse while training on dirt. The nature of the horse’s injuries was not immediately clear.
There have now been five deaths at Santa Anita since the start of this year, prompting the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to call on state racing officials to suspend racing at the Arcadia, California, track.
“Three dead horses in three days requires immediate action,” PETA said in a statement. “The California Horse Racing Board was recently given the authority, in legislation backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, to suspend racing — and now it must do exactly that.”
The outcry followed the deaths of 56 horses at Santa Anita from July 1, 2018, to Nov. 30, 2019, according to a special investigation by a task force that was created last year by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
The inquiry found no evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct by the track’s owners, the Canada-based Stronach Group, which closed Santa Anita in March for several weeks while the track’s safety and other racing practices were evaluated. But that has not placated animal welfare activists.
“There is no sense in the board allowing racing — and deaths — to continue until it enacts all its own pending regulations and acts on the recommendations of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office,” PETA said. “If it takes the closure of a track to stop the deaths, then close the track.”
A spokesman for the California Horse Racing Board declined to comment about the latest track fatalities. Instead, he provided a list of proposed changes to safety regulations on the types of drugs given to horses, racing in inclement weather and the transparency of veterinary records.
Some of the recommendations have been adopted, but others still require either board or budgetary approval, according to a checklist from the governing body, which now posts a weekly list of racing fatalities in California on its website.
A spokesman for Newsom, Jesse Melgar, said in an email Monday that the governor was troubled by the fatalities at the track over the weekend.
“While the California Horse Racing Board and Santa Anita have made progress in reducing equine fatalities over the past year and CHRB has made recommendations to further improve horse safety, Gov. Newsom remains concerned and believes more must be done,” Melgar said. “Despite implementing new safety review standards — which are now proving to be a new national model — too many horses are getting injured or dying as we saw over the weekend.”
When reached for comment Monday, a spokesman for Santa Anita Park said the management was crafting a statement.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Set against the San Gabriel Mountains, the racetrack, 15 miles northeast of Los Angeles, was the site of Seabiscuit’s 1940 victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. The 2003 movie “Seabiscuit” was filmed there.
In 2010, Santa Anita abandoned use of a synthetic track made of sand, rubber and silica after a short-lived experiment. In February, the management brought in a track safety expert from the University of Kentucky to search for clues regarding the rash of fatalities.
State racing officials say that Santa Anita installed new digital imaging equipment — a PET scan — to diagnose injuries to horses. The track also delayed the start of its current winter/spring meet to Dec. 28 from Dec. 26 because of concerns about inclement weather.