Santa Anita Calls for Sweeping New Rules at Racetrack

March 14, 2019 - 2:49 pm

(Santa Anita) -- Head of the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, announces "zero tolerance for race day medication" and says riding crops "should only be used as a corrective safety measure," after sources confirm to KNX 1070 that another horse has died at the park -- making it the 22nd horse death at the track since December 26.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) calls it a "watershed moment for racing" and thanks Santa Anita "for standing up to all the trainers, veterinarians, and owners who have used any means - from the whip to the hypodermic syringe - to force injured or unfit horses to run."

Before today, there have been 21 horse deaths and officials were targeting March 22 as the date to resume racing. 

The main track has been open for limited training earlier this week, but it remains closed for racing indefinitely as officials implement a series of safety protocols in the wake of 21 horse deaths at the facility since December 26th.

Some animal rights activists are calling for even bigger changes. PETA says it wants to ban all medications in the week before a race and end the practice of beating horses with whips to make them run faster.

PETA is calling for a criminal investigation into the horse deaths.

PETA also held a protest in downtown LA Thursday afternoon and KNX reporter Claudia Peschiutta took the photos. PETA had to alter its posters to reflect the latest horse death, which occurred after the protest was announced yesterday:

Claudia Peschiutta

Claudia Peschiutta

State officials are investigating the deaths but PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo insists that's not enough.

"The number of deaths is so high is I don't think we can just leave this to the California Horse Racing Board. There may be criminal behavior here. I don't know how we have this many horses without, at least, a criminal investigation to find out," she said.

The organization wants to know if animal cruelty has played a role in any of the deaths and is demanding Los Angeles County DA Jackie Lacey get police involved.

No comment from the DA's office.

Claudia Peschiutta

A Santa Anita spokesman says in a statement racetrack officials are also "very, very concerned" about the rash of deaths and "welcome any responsible outside review of practices" at the facility.

The injury occurred about 8 a.m. According to the Daily Racing Forum, the horse was Princess Lili B, a 3-year-old filly. She broke both front legs, the publication reported.

"We're just perplexed by what has happened, and devastated," Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for Santa Anita owner The Stronach Group, told Fox 11.

"The track -- we have complete confidence in the track, with the greatest track crew in America, and it's just a devastating time for all of us," Ritvo said.

Ritvo said the 3-year-old filly will be sent in for necropsy, but it was too early to know why the injury occurred.

"The rider said the filly felt fine, and then all of a sudden, just went bad," Ritvo said.

The latest injury occurred during training. Racing was suspended indefinitely at the track March 5, following the 21st death. Officials were targeting March 22 as the date to resume racing, while some animal-rights activists have said changes being instituted amid the rash of horse deaths don't go far enough to protect the animals.

"Like so many others, the California Horse Racing Board is greatly disturbed by this latest fatality and is committing its resources to helping identify the cause or causes of these fatalities and taking remedial action as necessary," Mike Marten, the spokesman for the state racing authority, said in a statement provided to City News Service. "This matter is on the agenda for the Board's March 21 public meeting. ...

"The CHRB conducts an investigation for any horse that dies within a CHRB-licensed facility, as will be the case with the fatality this morning. The CHRB is a law enforcement agency with sworn police officers. The CHRB's Chief of Enforcement is leading these investigations.

"These investigations include necropsies and can take several months. The results are thoroughly reviewed and can involve interviews with the trainer and attending veterinarian. The Official Veterinarian and Safety Steward have been heavily involved in this process from the beginning. Chairman Winner, Vice Chair Madeline Auerbach, and senior CHRB staff also have been fully engaged since the onset.

"The CHRB grants a racing association a license to conduct a race meet, so the decision to train or race during that meet rests with the racing association (in this case Santa Anita) unless the Board follows statutorily required procedures for placing any additional conditions on a license. The Board has been in contact with Santa Anita on an ongoing basis as they have tried to deal with this situation. The Board is now examining other options to prevent additional fatalities.

"The Board will have no further comment at this time."

Santa Anita Park officials were expected to address the latest fatality in a further statement shortly after noon Thursday.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is asking the industry to do more.

"Santa Anita's new procedures acknowledge that the deaths of 21 horses" -- the 21 that died before today --"were never just about the rain and a bad track. They're a step in the right direction -- but they don't go far enough," Guillermo said.

"Reviews of horses' past races and workout times, along with more physical examinations, should help to reveal when animals are being medicated to mask injuries," Guillermo continued. "PETA has long advocated for mandating that veterinary records stay with horses throughout their lives, which is crucial for ensuring that injuries aren't hidden. But now, the entire racing industry must own up to the bloodbath on racetracks across the country. Medications must be banned entirely in the week before a race, beating horses with a whip to push them ever harder must stop, and racing injured horses just to give bettors options to put money on must be prohibited. These animals aren't machines to be driven mercilessly, and the public has joined PETA in making it clear that it won't support this abuse."

The track recently announced a set of new protocols, which are as follows:

-- The creation of an equine-welfare position.

-- Trainers who want to put a horse through timed, high-speed training exercises will be required to ask for permission 24 hours in advance. Officials said the move will help track veterinarians identify "at-risk" horses by evaluating past performance, workout data and physical inspections.

-- The track has hired additional veterinarians "to observe all horses entering and exiting the tracks each morning during training hours."

-- The track is also instituting a "House Rule" requiring "complete transparency with regard to veterinary records," requiring that the records follow the horse through changes in trainers or owners.

-- Santa Anita also created the position of Director of Equine Welfare, which will be filled by an accredited veterinarian. The position will oversee "all aspects of equine well-being and will lead a Rapid Response team for injuries." That team will investigate all factors contributing to the injury and share its findings with the public, track officials said.

Between December and February of the previous year, 10 horses died at Santa Anita, compared with eight in 2016-17 and 14 in 2015-16.

The track averaged about 50 deaths per year from 2008-18, according to data from the California Horse Racing Board.

The unusually large amount of rain that has fallen over the Southland this winter has been mentioned as a possible factor in explaining the surge in deaths.

-KNX 1070 and CNS