Humane Society of the United States Calls for Santa Anita to Suspend Racing After Another Horse Dies

Posted on: April 1, 2019, 03:33h. 

Last updated on: April 2, 2019, 07:43h.

A national animal welfare group on Monday called for officials at Santa Anita Park to suspend racing after a horse died due to injuries he suffered during a race Sunday, just three days after the California track reopened.

Last month, Santa Anita Park brought in consultants to examine its dirt track after more than 20 horses died at the park over a two-month span. After closing the track for more than three weeks, racing resumed on Friday. However, another horse died in a race Sunday. (Image: Brian van der Brug/LA Times)

The fatal injury to the 5-year-old gelding marked the 23rd death at Santa Anita since its current meet started in late December. Track officials suspended racing on March 5 while experts studied the track and investigated the causes behind the deaths. Training resumed less than a week later. On March 14, a three-year-old filly died during a workout.

On Sunday, Arms Runner fell during the San Simeon Stakes, colliding with another horse. The 6-1/2-furlong race ran on the track’s hillside turf course. However, the injury took place on the dirt surface some have questioned as the horses moved from the downhill turf chute to the inside turf track.

La Sardane, the other horse, walked off uninjured.

Valerie Pringle, the campaign manager for equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), told Monday afternoon the organization criticized the decision to resume training and racing.

We think that the results of the necropsies need to be completed before they start racing again, so my answer is no,” said Pringle, when asked if racing should continue at the track. “They need to figure out what’s going on, and we’re not sure what the necropsies are going to say.”

The Humane Society also called on officials to publicly release the results of the necropsies.

State Officials Reviewing Situation

Racing will resume on Thursday at Santa Anita, which has a big schedule ahead for the upcoming weekend. The track has scheduled five graded stakes on its Saturday card, highlighted by the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. The $1 million stakes race is one of the most prestigious Kentucky Derby prep, with some of the top 3-year-old colts expected to run.

In a statement Sunday night, track officials called the death “a gut-wrenching blow” to the racing community.

Efforts to reach Santa Anita officials on Monday were unsuccessful.

Through a spokesman, the California Horse Racing Board told the agency remains in contact with The Stronach Group (TSG), which owns the track, and other racing stakeholders.

“The California Horse Racing Board is evaluating the situation and determining what, if any, action will be taken,” the board said.

Last week, the board authorized Santa Anita to resume racing.

Much of the focus on Santa Anita has been the combination of heavy rains and unusually cold weather at the track during the first two months of the meet. However, TSG Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo told board members that research into the deaths shows multiple factors.

Pushing for Safety

In its statement regarding Arms Runner’s death, Santa Anita officials highlighted the steps they’ve pursued over the past month. That includes reforming its race day drug policies and pushing for restrictions on the use of the riding crop.

“We urge other racing venues in California to adopt the IFHA standards immediately,” the track’s statement read. “Together we can create higher standards and protocols across the board at all California racing and training venues.”

The Jockey Club issued a similar statement, saying what has happened at Santa Anita is not without precedent.

“There has been tremendous focus on the track surface, but the core of the problem lies in a fundamentally flawed system that falls far short of international horse racing standards … that better protect horses and result in far fewer injuries and deaths,” the statement iterated.

Even the HSUS applauded the steps taken by TSG. However, Pringle said with racing taking place in 38 states it makes it difficult to get changes enacted nationwide.

The group strongly supports the Horseracing Integrity Act. The bill, introduced in Congress last month, calls for national anti-doping standards for horses both on race days and away from competition.

Pringle added TSG supports the bill.

“We absolutely support the efforts of The Stronach Group,” Pringle said. “I think they’re very brave to do this, and I’m hoping that there are other tracks that are responsibly owned that will do the same. But there’s no way to compel them because there’s no one that can tell them what to do.”