US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) is seeking a temporary halt to racing at Santa Anita — to allow for a comprehensive investigation of a rash of equine fatalities at the iconic Los Angeles-area Thoroughbred track.
The announcement late Tuesday by California’s senior senator follows 23 horse fatalities since the track began its Winter/Spring meeting Dec. 26.
Her call for a racing suspension at the track is the key element in a letter to Chuck Winner, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
“The death of a single horse is a tragedy, but as a lifelong lover of horses, I’m appalled that almost two dozen horses have died in just four months. I believe that racing at Santa Anita should be suspended until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated. I also ask for more information about what the California Horse Racing Board is doing to both investigate this matter and address some of the concerns that these incidents have rightly raised.”
State Regulators to Meet
The CHRB is scheduling a meeting for April 12 at Santa Anita to discuss the possibility of moving racing days away from Santa Anita this spring.
As of Wednesday morning, Winner, has yet to issue an official comment on the Feinstein letter. However, the lone agenda item for the April 12 meeting is to discuss and possibly take action on the “reallocation of race dates granted to the Los Angeles Turf Club at Santa Anita Park Race Track.”
The two other Southern California facilities holding Thoroughbred race meetings at this time are at Del Mar, near San Diego and Los Alamitos, primarily a Quarter Horse track in Orange County. Impediments to either of these tracks hosting the Santa Anita dates include a major horse show at Del Mar April 16 through May 5 and the San Diego County Fair. That’s held throughout June and into July at Del Mar, which is within the San Diego County Fairgrounds complex. Del Mar traditionally begins its Thoroughbred meeting in mid-July and concludes on Labor Day.
At Los Alamitos, the lack a grass course is seen as a major issue. The current Quarter Horse meeting is conducted only in the evenings.
Hollywood Park in Inglewood closed in 2013 after 75 years of racing. It’s now the site of the The Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, the new home, currently under construction, for the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams.
The CHRB cannot move the dates without a public hearing or without Santa Anita’s consent, according to Winner, a long-time horse owner.
No Common Thread?
Racing resumed at Santa Anita just a week ago — with horses beginning training regimens two weeks before that. The calm from a lack of incidents Friday and Saturday was shattered Sunday during the San Simeon Stakes, an event of Santa Anita’s unique downhill grass course. That’s when 5-year-old Arms Runner appeared to take a bad step, falling to the ground. A trailing horse, La Sardane then fell over top of him. The incident occurred at the dirt track crossing near the quarter pole. Neither rider involved in the incident Martin Pedroza on Arms Runner or Ruben Fuentes on LA Sardane were seriously injured.
The Daily Racing Form reported that Arms Runner suffered a “severe injury to his right front leg,” was vanned off the course and later euthanized. It was also reported late Wednesday that racing has been suspended on the downhill grass course until at least Friday, April 12, the next racing day after this weekend.
There’s been no common thread to the spate of deaths. One theory is that heavy rainfall in Southern California the first two months of 2019 and cooler than normal temperatures may have impeded the track from drying adequately. Wet weather also required maintenance officials to “scrape” the racing surface creating a wet/fast surface that is significantly harder on a horses legs than a normal “fast” track
New Rules at Santa Anita
The CHRB, at the request of Tim Ritvo and track owner, The Stronach Group (TSG), is now beginning the process of revising equine drug regulations and more closely monitoring horses with soundness issues. Training procedures at Santa Anita are also being altered so officials can better supervise a horse’s ability to compete coming off long periods of inactivity. Changing how and when jockeys to utilize whips was also revised by the CHRB.
Feinstein also wants the CHRB to consider banning more medications and the re-introduction of synthetic track surfaces to California racing. At one time all four major California tracks were using synthetic surfaces, but now, only the one at Golden Gate Fields, near San Fransisco remains.
Santa Anita Park, said in a statement, that euthanizing Arms Runner is “a gut-wrenching blow,” adding it “speaks to the larger issue of doing all that we can to better understand and prevent such catastrophic injuries, not only at Santa Anita, but throughout California and across the country.”
Feinstein says the moves already made at Santa Anita are “positive initial steps,” but she called on the track to shut down racing “until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated.”
Ritvo says racing will continue as scheduled. There are eight live races are scheduled for Thursday and another eight on Friday. Saturday, the track is set to host the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, a major Kentucky Derby prep race. Also scheduled are six other big-money stakes races, many rescheduled from March when the track was closed for a complete surface restoration. Thirteen race days from March 7 through March 28 were lost.