Mario Tama/Getty Images)(LOS ANGELES) — Santa Anita Park will not heed the California Horse Racing Board’s recommendation to suspend racing in the wake of two more horse deaths over the weekend because the reforms that were enacted earlier in the year appear to be effective, according to a spokesman.
In March, the park announced a series of changes surrounding horse safety, including a “zero tolerance” policy for the use of medication on racing day in the wake of more than two dozen horse deaths since December 2018.
The California Horse Racing Board further voted to limit whips on racing day as well, a rule that applies to Santa Anita.
After the reforms took place, the park saw up to seven weeks of “clean racing,” Stefan Friedman, spokesman for The Stronach Group, a company that owns the park, told ABC News. In addition, the track has seen 50% fewer catastrophic breakdowns during racing and 84% fewer catastrophic incidents during training, Friedman said.
There were no horse fatalities between April 1 to May 18, when the death toll remained at 23, Santa Anita said in a statement last month. But after that time, the number of horses dying began to climb once again.
On Sunday, 3-year-old Truffalino collapsed in the final stages of the third race and died of a heart attack, Friedman said. The day before, 4-year-old Formal Dude broke down while nearing the finish line in the 10th race and was euthanized, he said.
A total of 29 horses have died at Santa Anita since the start of the racing season.
The chairman, vice chairman and executive director of the California Horse Racing Board recommended on Saturday that Santa Anita suspend racing for the seven remaining race days of 2019, which lasts until June 23, but continue training during that time period, according to a statement from Mike Marten, the board’s public information officer.
“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,” the California Horse Racing Board said in a statement over the weekend.
Under current California law, the board does not have the authority to suspend a race meet or remove race dates without the approval of the race track operator or without holding a public meeting with 10 days’ notice, Marten said.
Santa Anita’s decision to stay open was made after and “extensive consultation” among the The Stronach Group, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers, according to a joint statement from those organizations.
Friedman described the most recent horse deaths as “really devastating,” adding that the decision to continue racing “was not made lightly.” The park and the California Horse Racing Board have a “really good relationship,” Friedman added.
“The reforms that we instituted are working,” Friedman said. “Do we have a lot more work to do? Absolutely. And everyone at this track, whether it’s the Stronach Group or the horsemen or the trainers or the jockeys, are fully on board and committed to the goal of having zero catastrophic breakdowns.”
In April, PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo told ABC News that the animal rights advocacy group supported the new rules that Santa Anita put into place, calling them the “first step in what needs to be an overhaul in racing nationwide.”
“The reason that we take that perspective is that the broken bones in California are happening all over the country,” Guillermo said, referring to horse injuries.
Friedman argued that if Santa Anita were to shut down the track, it would be a “terrible signal to everyone that these reforms were ineffective, and that’s just not correct.”
“Secondly…to shut down racing and essentially shut down training, you’re taking about closing down a facility and the horses,” Friedman said. “There’s no place for them to go in this juncture in California,” he added.
Nearly 2,000 horses live on site and hundreds of Santa Anita employees live and work on site as well, Friedman said.
Guillermo said in a statement Monday that what’s happening at Santa Anita is a “microcosm of what’s happening in racing nationally: broken bones, death and public outrage.”
“Their bodies litter tracks in New York, Kentucky, Florida, Texas and many other states,” she said, adding that PETA recently called for tracks nationwide to suspend racing until they can implement “long-needed and significant changes that will help end the cruelty and protect horses.”
Santa Anita Park will host the 2019 Breeders’ Cup world championships on Nov. 1 and 2.
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