Af­ter 30 dead horses, thank heav­ens Santa Anita’s lethal sea­son is over

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - CARLA HALL

The grisly win­ter rac­ing sea­son at Santa Anita fi­nally, mer­ci­fully, came to a close Sun­day, with 30 horses dead from rac­ing or train­ing. The lat­est death was just two days ago. And, although rac­ing has closed at the park un­til late Septem­ber, train­ing will con­tinue un­til July 11. A good num­ber of those 30 deaths oc­curred dur­ing train­ing. It’s dis­con­cert­ing to think that horses will con­tinue even to be trained there.

The num­ber of un­ex­plained equine deaths is big enough to jus­tify the spot­light on Santa Anita. How­ever, the dis­turb­ing num­ber of deaths at other tracks jus­ti­fies reeval­u­at­ing the en­tire sport. Do we want to have a sport that last year killed 493 thor­ough­breds in rac­ing on U.S. tracks? Yes, that’s a small frac­tion of the 49,000 horses to­tal

that raced — but this is not a sport in­tended to kill horses. This is not dog fight­ing (which is il­le­gal to op­er­ate or even watch in the United States).

Two weeks ago, af­ter the 28th death, the Cal­i­for­nia Horse Rac­ing Board asked the own­ers of Santa Anita to stop rac­ing, pend­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the re­lease of in­for­ma­tion on the necrop­sies of the horses al­ready eu­th­a­nized. The Santa Anita Park own­ers re­fused, say­ing they had put plenty of re­forms into ef­fect that were work­ing, In­deed, the Santa Anita own­ers put in place ground­break­ing re­forms on which drugs could be used and when they could be ad­min­is­tered, on train­ers, on when horses needed to be reg­is­tered for races, on jock­eys and when they could use their crops to whip horses.

Those re­forms didn’t save two more horses from dy­ing — one the day af­ter the rac­ing board re­quested the park sus­pend rac­ing, and the sec­ond on Satur­day. If Santa Anita had just stopped rac­ing a mere two weeks be­fore the end of the sea­son, two more horses would not have died. It’s shame­ful that the own­ers did not stop.

Yet in the cal­cu­lus of the horse rac­ing busi­ness, where bil­lions of dol­lars are be­ing wa­gered, those are lam­en­ta­ble but ac­cept­able deaths. Re­forms are in place, more vet­eri­nar­i­ans are on hand and the groomers lav­ish lov­ing care on the horses. When the 30th horse, Amer­i­can Cur­rency, died on Satur­day while train­ing, Santa Anita of­fi­cials moved to ex­pel its trainer — Hall of Famer Jerry Hol­len­dor­fer — from the track, telling the L.A. Times’ John Cherwa that the trainer “does not match the level of safety and ac­count­abil­ity we de­mand.”

That horse was the fourth of Hol­len­dor­fer’s to die dur­ing this win­ter rac­ing sea­son at Santa Anita, and he needed to go. In fact, he also trained Psychedel­i­cat, the first horse to die rac­ing or train­ing at Santa Anita this sea­son. (His horse that died Satur­day had been pulled from a race last week­end by a vet­eri­nar­ian.) The fact that another track, Los Alami­tos, has not only wel­comed him and his horses but also de­fended him shows how lit­tle the deaths of horses mat­ter at many of these tracks.

The point about Santa Anita is that with all these re­forms, horses have con­tin­ued to die at this park. That doesn’t mean that Santa Anita was wrong to adopt the re­forms. They were a good idea, but they may not have been enough.

Here are the key is­sues that rac­ing reg­u­la­tors, Cal­i­for­ni­ans and all Amer­i­cans need to con­front: Can the sport be reg­u­lated ef­fec­tively enough to dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the death toll? And do we re­ally want to have a sport where the ex­pected col­lat­eral dam­age is hun­dreds of dead horses? Be­cause that’s the re­al­ity of this sport at the mo­ment: Even when re­stric­tions on drugs and train­ing are put into place, horses die reg­u­larly.

Is that some­thing we want to tol­er­ate?

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