Santa Anita Rejects Request to Close Track After 28th Horse Death Since Dec. 26

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJune 9, 2019

Horses are led to paddocks past the Seabiscuit statue during workouts at Santa Anita Park, as members of the California Horse Racing Board weigh new safety and medication rules in the wake of 22 horse deaths during a meeting at the track in Arcadia, Calif., Thursday, March 28, 2019. The board is considering whether to ban the use of medication and whips on racing days. If approved, Santa Anita would become the first racetrack in the nation to impose such restrictions. (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)
Amanda Lee Myers/Associated Press

Santa Anita management has denied a request from the California Horse Racing Board to suspend races for the next week after the 28th horse death at the race track since Dec. 26, according to John Cherwa of the Los Angeles Times.

"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.

"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 added.

The latest horse to die was Formal Dude on Saturday, who was euthanized after suffering a presumed pelvic injury.

CHRB chairman Chuck Winner, vice chair Madeline Auerbach and executive director Rick Baedeker made the request to suspend racing, though they did not suggest stopping any training at Santa Anita. The race venue is scheduled to host the Breeders' Cup in November, one of the biggest events on the horse racing calendar, though the high frequency of deaths in the past six months could put that in jeopardy.

"I think it's fair to say our board will have a full report from management on everything we know about the situation in California as well as injury rates at other race tracks and we'll have to evaluate that situation and what our options are," Breeders' Cup President Craig Fravel said Sunday, per Tim Sullivan of the Louisville Courier Journal. "That's really ultimately a board decision, so I have to defer to that process."

Santa Anita isn't alone in a high frequency of deaths, however.

Joe Drape of the New York Times reported that "Nearly 10 horses a week on average died at American race tracks in 2018, according to the Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database. That fatality rate is two and a half to five times greater than in the rest of the horse racing world."

Drape added that the sport remains divided between the "horse breeders and owners who back a federal bill to create a uniform national standard for drug testing and medication rules in racehorses that would be overseen by the United States Anti-Doping Agency" and various "associations representing horse trainers and race track owners like Churchill Downs, site of the Kentucky Derby, that say the reforms are too expensive and intrusive."

In the interim, an alarming number of horses continue to die in the sport, including at Santa Anita.