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Santa Anita denies request to stop racing after 28th horse dies

ARCADIA, Calif. — Officials at Santa Anita Park refused a request by the California Horse Racing Board to suspend racing at the track for the remaining seven days of the season after a 28th horse died at the facility since Dec. 26.

Formal Dude was euthanized Saturday after suffering an injury during that day’s 10th race, Mike Marten, spokesman for the CHRB, told City News Service.

“Under current law, The California Horse Racing Board does not have the authority to suspend a race meet or remove race dates from a current race meet without the approval of the race track operator or without holding a public meeting with ten days public notice,” the CHRB said in a statement.

“The Chairman, Vice Chairman and the Executive Director 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. This would provide the industry more time to fully implement announced safety initiatives and perhaps additional ones.

“It is our understanding that 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.”

Santa Anita officials said they expected to issue a statement later Sunday.

The number of deaths at the track have prompted calls from animal-advocacy groups and some politicians for a halt in racing at Santa Anita, or even to ban the sport in California altogether.

“Santa Anita averages 50 dead horses a year. It is business as usual. The general public must understand that horse racing kills horses at every single track. This is not isolated to Santa Anita,” Heather Wilson, an organizer with Horseracing Wrongs — a New York-based nonprofit working to eradicate horse racing in the United States — told City News Service on Sunday.

“We are asking that all horse racing be suspended in California. We demand that a bill be introduced in the state Legislature that will abolish horse racing,” Wilson continued. “Senator Feinstein has asked repeatedly for Santa Anita to be shut down, and The Stronach Group defy her every time. No more reform, no more investigations, no more subpoenas. This `sport’ needs to end.”

The Stronach Group is the company that owns Santa Anita Park.

In April, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the creation of a task force to investigate the deaths of the horses at the track.

In a letter to the CHRB on April 2, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein called for racing to be suspended at the track “until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated,” a call she repeated last month as the deaths continued piling up.

Racing was halted at the track for most of March while examinations were conducted on the track. Races resumed April 4 after the state horse racing board approved a series of safety measures, and Santa Anita officials announced a series of new measures to help bolster the safety of horses at the track, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get permission in advance before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.

No further deaths occurred until May 17, when an unraced 3-year-old gelding named Commander Coil suffered a fatal shoulder injury while galloping during training.

“Equine shoulder injuries are rare, especially for a horse that is galloping as opposed to breezing or racing,” said a statement from TSG. “A comprehensive evaluation will be completed to understand what might have caused this uncommon injury.”

Two days later, Spectacular Music, a 3-year-old gelding, sustained a pelvic injury while running his first career race and was put down.

“The Stronach Group remains committed to operating Santa Anita Park with stringent protocols that prioritize the health and safety of horses and riders first and foremost,” TSG said in a statement that day.

On May 26, a 9-year-old gelding named Kochees was put down after suffering a leg injury during a race the previous day.

On June 5, River Derby, an unraced 2-year-old colt, suffered a shoulder injury during a gallop at Santa Anita and was later euthanized. Track spokesman Mike Willman said the horse was initially examined at Santa Anita but the shoulder injury was not diagnosed until it was taken to Chino Valley Equine Hospital, where it was euthanized.

The horse’s trainer, Ruben Gomez, told the Los Angeles Times the fractured shoulder “can be a common injury in babies. He just came up from Florida.”

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