Feinstein again calls on Santa Anita to suspend racing after horse deaths

The owners of Santa Anita Park said that its changes have been effective, and that it would stay open through the end of the season.
Image: Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said "something is seriously wrong" at Santa Anita Park, where 199 horses have died over the last four seasons.Alex Brandon / AP file

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By Phil Helsel

Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Monday again called on Santa Anita Park to immediately suspend horse racing there after 29 horses have died or been euthanized since late December.

"Santa Anita should have suspended racing in March after 23 horses died over a three-month stretch to open the season," Feinstein, a California Democrat, said in a statement. "Now that six more horses have died in just 23 days — 29 total deaths this season — the track should suspend racing immediately.”

The Stronach Group, which owns the Arcadia park, along with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers said in a statement Sunday that racing would not be suspended at the Los Angeles-area park.

After the first death of the weekend on Saturday, the California Horse Racing Board, or CHRB, said in a statement that it "recommended to Santa Anita management that they suspend racing for the seven remaining race days but that they allow horses to continue to train during that period."

But "Santa Anita management, after consultation with certain other industry stakeholders, believes that for a variety of reasons, the future of California racing is best served by continuing to race," the board said.

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The CHRB doesn't have authority to suspend racing at a California track unilaterally without the track's approval or after a public meeting. Public meetings require 10 days notice under state law; Santa Anita's season ends June 23.

"We are collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport — grooms, hot walkers, jockeys, exercise riders, starters, trainers, owners, track managers and every horse wearing a bridle and a saddle — to reform and improve racing every day," The Stronach Group and the other two horse racing organizations said in Sunday's statement.

Feinstein had called for all racing to be suspended at Santa Anita in March, after the 23rd horse was fatally injured there since December.

The track did suspend racing in March after a spate of horse deaths, but racing later resumed later that month.

Feinstein said Monday that in addition to the deaths this season, 44 horses died during the 2017-18 season; 64 horses died in the 2016-17 season; and 62 horses died during the 2015-16 season.

"That’s 199 dead horses at one track in four racing seasons. Something is seriously wrong — whether it’s the track itself or problems with training or medication," Feinstein said. "No one seems to know, yet training and racing continues."

Feinstein also called on the state Assembly to pass a bill that according to The Associated Press would allow the horse racing board to immediately suspend a license without the usual legal notice at least 10 days in advance of a vote, or the 48-hour requirement in the case of so-called special meetings. It has passed the state Senate and Gov. Gavin Newsom says he supports it.

A spokesman for Santa Anita Park said Monday night he had nothing to add beyond Sunday’s statement in which it was announced the season would continue.

The park has said that a series of changes at the track have been made since December, including new rules banning the administration of most drugs and the use of whips during races except for safety reasons.

"Since wide-sweeping reforms have been instituted at Santa Anita, catastrophic injuries have dropped considerably compared to earlier this meet, decreasing by 50 percent in racing and by more than 84 percent in training," The Stronach Group and the other two horse racing organizations said.

"To be clear, there are no acceptable losses, and every day we work toward ending all serious injuries," they added. "But the reality is that our improvements and changes have been effective."

They also said an investigation of all track incidents was underway and that track officials and others are considering all training and racing protocols and "will consider all enhancements to the sweeping new protocols already introduced."