ARCADIA, CA — Activists are a common sign outside of Santa Anita Park, but this year, with now 23 racehorse deaths, their complaints are getting more attention than ever before. Over the weekend, a 5-year-old racehorse suffered a significant injury during a Santa Anita race and was euthanized, authorities say.
The 23rd death has animal rights activists calling for California Governor Gavin Newsom to form a panel to investigate training and veterinary practices at California race tracks after Arms Runner died at Santa Anita Park, the 23rd equine death at the facility since Dec. 26.
Racing had just resumed Friday at the racetrack, one day after the California Horse Racing Board approved restrictions on certain medications administered to the animals. The track was closed for most of this month while officials inspected the track and formulated the new regulations.
Arms Runner won his last race at the park on Jan. 27, but suffered a severe and ultimately fatal injury to his right front leg in Sunday’s Grade 3 San Simeon Stakes on turf, resulting in a two-horse spill.
“When they hit the dirt, the (Arms Runner) went down,” a fan at the park said of the collision.
The trailing horse, La Sardane, fell but was quickly on her feet, the Daily Racing Forum reported. The spill occurred just as the horses were about to re-enter the turf portion of the course that starts at the top of a hillside and has a crossover point on dirt.
“Arms Runner sustained a fatal injury during the San Simeon Stakes (Sunday),” Mike Willman, representing Santa Anita, said in a statement. “He was racing over the 6-furlong hillside turf course (Sunday) afternoon when at the dirt crossing, he fell and collided with another horse, La Sardane. La Sardane was walked back to her barn under her own power with no reported injuries. Both jockeys, Martin Pedroza, who rode Arms Runner and Ruben Fuentes, who rode La Sardane, were examined by on-site medical experts and released from First Aid.
“While this incident happened during competition on a track that has been deemed by independent experts to be safe, we are working closely with the California Horse Racing Board to understand if there was anything additional that we could have done to prevent (Sunday’s) tragedy. (Sunday’s) incident speaks to the larger issue of catastrophic injuries in horse racing that The Stronach Group together with our industry stakeholders are working to solve throughout California and across the country.”
Arms Runner was trained by Peter Miller and owned by Rockingham Ranch. He had made $124,941 in 12 starts before Sunday.
People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals shared this statement following the horse death:
“Over the past two weeks, Thoroughbred owners and trainers and the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) have argued about medications, whipping, and the public perception of horse racing. But they did not take every measure needed to protect the horses. Both horses (who went down) ran on the drug Lasix, which is known to cause dehydration and electrolyte loss,’ PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said. ‘All drugs need to be banned entirely, and the known-safest racing surface — a synthetic track — must be used. Furthermore, PETA calls on Governor Newsom to urgently form an independent panel to investigate the training and veterinary practices in California racing, including the use of bisphosphonates and other medications that reportedly have been used indiscriminately. If the CHRB does not take every possible action to protect the horses, then racing should not be allowed to continue.”
The CHRB approved previously announced proposals to limit the use of anti-inflammatory medications on horses strictly. It also approved a much-discussed 50 percent reduction in the allowable amount of Lasix, a diuretic that helps prevent horses from hemorrhaging. Santa Anita officials had initially proposed a ban on Lasix but struck a compromise with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers calling for a 50 percent reduction in allowable dosage.
Santa Anita officials previously announced a series of other measures being implemented to help bolster the safety of the horses, including:
Those measures, however, did not prevent animal-advocacy groups from protesting the resumption of racing at Santa Anita, who point to the dangers they say are inherent in the sport.
Between December and February of the previous year, ten 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 CHRB.
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.
Former track superintendent Dennis Moore and Mick Peterson of Racing Services Testing Lab were brought in to conduct a thorough analysis of the main track, and officials repeatedly said they found no problems.
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City News Service, Patch Editor Ashley Ludwig contributed to this report.