Santa Anita cleared of crime

Antelope Valley Press - - Sports - By BRIAN MELLEY

Cal­i­for­nia prose­cu­tors found no ev­i­dence of an­i­mal cru­elty or other crimes dur­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a spike in horse deaths at Santa Anita Park race­track over the past year, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued Thurs­day. A task force formed by the Los An­ge­les district at­tor­ney found the 49 deaths at the track dur­ing a 12-month pe­riod end­ing in June oc­curred at a rate higher than the na­tional av­er­age, but lower than some years in the past decade and lower than Churchill Downs in Ken­tucky.

LOS AN­GE­LES — Cal­i­for­nia prose­cu­tors found no ev­i­dence of an­i­mal cru­elty or other crimes dur­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a spike in horse deaths at Santa Anita Park race­track over the past year, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued Thurs­day.

A task force formed by the Los An­ge­les district at­tor­ney found the 49 deaths at the track dur­ing a 12-month pe­riod end­ing in June oc­curred at a rate higher than the na­tional av­er­age, but lower than some years in the past decade and lower than Churchill Downs in Ken­tucky.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was one of sev­eral ac­tions taken af­ter 23 horse deaths at the Cal­i­for­nia track dur­ing the win­ter-spring sea­son from Dec. 30 to March 31 caused an out­cry that in­cluded calls to shut down horse rac­ing in the state and led to reg­u­la­tory changes and pro­posed leg­is­la­tion.

A to­tal of 56 horses have died at the track since July 2018. The most no­table death came in Novem­ber af­ter Mon­go­lian Groom, a 4-year-old geld­ing, fal­tered in the fi­nal turn of the $6 mil­lion Breeder’s Cup Clas­sic in front of nearly 70,000 fans and a prime-time tele­vi­sion au­di­ence and was later eu­th­a­nized.

District At­tor­ney Jackie Lacey made two dozen rec­om­men­da­tions for im­prov­ing safety at race­tracks and said she would spon­sor leg­is­la­tion to make ve­teri­nary records more trans­par­ent for horses rac­ing in Cal­i­for­nia.

“Horse rac­ing has in­her­ent risks but is a legally sanc­tioned sport in Cal­i­for­nia,” Lacey said in a state­ment. “Greater pre­cau­tions are needed to en­hance safety and pro­tect both horses and their rid­ers.”

The re­port found no ev­i­dence that own­ers, train­ers or jock­eys in­ten­tion­ally made an in­jured horse race or that the track had pres­sured jock­eys or train­ers to race when there were con­cerns about weather or the track con­di­tion. While eight drugs were found in sev­eral of the horses that died, none was il­le­gal and quan­ti­ties didn’t ex­ceeded le­gal lim­its.

Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals, which is de­mand­ing rac­ing be sus­pended na­tion­wide un­til safety mea­sures are in­tro­duced, such as in­stal­la­tion of CT scan equip­ment to eval­u­ate the legs of horses, was crit­i­cal of the re­port.

“It’s be­yond cred­i­ble that the district at­tor­ney doesn’t see that train­ers who med­i­cate horses ob­vi­ously know that they are in­jured and sore, so they should be crim­i­nally cul­pa­ble if they then force them to race to their deaths,” Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent Kathy Guillermo said. “No sane per­son can find it ac­cept­able for horses to suf­fer and die in a sport.”

Po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee An­i­mal Well­ness Ac­tion, which is urg­ing Congress to pass leg­is­la­tion to es­tab­lish a na­tional, uni­form stan­dard for drugs in the in­dus­try and create an in­de­pen­dent or­ga­ni­za­tion to over­see med­i­ca­tion rules, test­ing and en­force­ment, said it was en­cour­aged no crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing was found and ap­plauded Lacey’s rec­om­men­da­tions.

“But dop­ing re­mains le­gal in Cal­i­for­nia, and across the U.S., and Amer­i­can horse rac­ing is ad­dicted to drugs,” said ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Marty Irby. “It’s time for an in­ter­ven­tion, and Congress must soon pass the Horserac­ing In­tegrity Act to re­form the in­dus­try or the pub­lic sen­ti­ment will con­tinue to shift away from merely elim­i­nat­ing dop­ing in horse rac­ing to elim­i­nat­ing horse rac­ing it­self.”

The bills is be­ing sup­ported by the Breed­ers’ Cup, The Jockey Club and The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita.

The Stronach Group wel­comed Lacey’s re­port and said it was happy she found no ev­i­dence of mis­con­duct.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion found an av­er­age of 2.04 deaths per 1,000 rac­ing starts last year at Santa Anita, com­pared to 1.68 na­tion­ally, the re­port said, cit­ing Jockey Club sta­tis­tics. Churchill Downs, home of the Ken­tucky Derby, av­er­aged 2.73 deaths.

The num­ber of deaths at the track have fluc­tu­ated over the past decade from a low of 37 in the 2010-11 sea­son and a high of 71 the fol­low­ing year, the re­port said. There were five more deaths last year than in 2017-18.

The na­tional av­er­age for cat­a­strophic rac­ing break­downs has de­clined al­most 20% in the past decade, the re­port said.

The Cal­i­for­nia Horse Rac­ing Board, which is due next month to is­sue its own re­port on the fa­tal­i­ties, voted last week to im­pose the na­tion’s strictest lim­its on the use of rid­ing crops, which are com­monly called whips.

As­so­ci­ated Press

IN THE CLEAR An in­ves­ti­ga­tion into nu­mer­ous horse deaths at Santa Anita Park found no crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing but pro­duced a list of rec­om­men­da­tions for im­prov­ing safety at all Cal­i­for­nia race­tracks, the L.A. County district at­tor­ney said in a re­port Thurs­day.

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