Santa Anita Park's Horse Deaths Not Linked to Illegal Medications, Procedures

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2020

FILE - This Nov. 2, 2019, file photo shows track workers treating Mongolian Groom after the Breeders' Cup Classic horse race at Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, Calif. Breeders' Cup Classic. A report released Tuesday, March 10, 2020, by the California Horse Racing Board on a spate of horse deaths at Santa Anita found that no illegal medications were used on the animals and 39% percent of the 23 fatalities occurred on surfaces affected by wet weather. The long-awaited report focused on 23 deaths as a result of racing or training between Dec. 30, 2018, and March 31, 2019. The fatalities roiled the industry and led track owner The Stronach Group to institute several reforms involving safety and medication. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

California Horse Racing Board report found that the deaths of 23 horses at Santa Anita Park last year were not the result of illegal medications or procedures. 

According to Michael Rothstein of ESPN that while nothing illegal took place, the racing board found that those responsible for the horses could have done far more to ensure safety. Of the 23 horses that died from Dec. 30, 2018, to March 31, 2019, 21 were found to have pre-existing conditions that led to fatal injuries.

The board found horsemen "did not display good working knowledge of anatomy or grasp the significance of major pre-existing lesions." It also found "large gaps" in recordkeeping for the health of the horses.

The report also found that 39 percent of the deaths happened when horses were running on "sloppy" or "sealed" tracks. Trainers also reported several instances of being pressured to run horses, though there was only one specific example in the report. 

Santa Anita briefly shut down racing at the track last year amid a rash of deaths at the track. While an investigation found no untoward behavior or unsafe conditions and racing soon resumed, the track has already lost five horses in 2020, per CNN.com's Madeline Holcombe and Hollie Silverman

The board made 47 recommendations to increase the safety of the horses and praised Santa Anita for the installation of a PET scanner designed to help identify pre-existing conditions, per Rothstein.

"The early PET images at Santa Anita so far are exciting," the report said. "And show this proximal sesamoid bone lesion can be successfully imaged."