Santa Anita Park has been the site of 29 horse deaths since Dec. 30, four days after the racetrack’s winter meet began. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
PUBLISHED: June 13, 2019 at 12:15 pm | UPDATED: June 13, 2019 at 12:15 pm
Wednesday’s announcement by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) and the Stronach Group that enhanced safety measures will be required before any horse runs a race at Santa Anita Park is a temporary and inadequate solution to the epidemic of horses dying at the track.
The only solution that will guarantee more horses do not lose their lives at Santa Anita and other racetracks is to immediately halt all racing in the state until the causes of deaths are determined, and stricter rules aimed at those causes are fully implemented.
This entire situation, including the refusal to close for the remainder of the season by Santa Anita Park, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, exemplifies that none of these industry stakeholders prioritize the welfare of the horse athletes that are the heart of their sport, a clear indicator that things have long been awry in the horseracing industry.
Calls to shut down racing by United States Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Horse Racing Board, in addition to my group and the animal rights community have been amplified since the 29th life was lost this past Sunday. As Gov. Newsom said, “Enough is enough.” But the calls to shut down have fallen on deaf ears and the drive for profit won the day as Santa Anita Park, the owners and the trainers push for six more days of races.
Despite the defiance of the horse racing industry, public outrage moved the governor’s office, CHRB and the Stronach Group to implement race-day inspections by a five-member “horse safety team” in an attempt to save lives. I sure hope they do.
The panel of reviewers will be looking for horses that should not be racing and pull them from competition. Many horses have died recently that should have never been on the field. With an abundance of caution, we hope this Band-Aid approach works for the final days, but then we must get all the facts and mandate real solutions.
Once the verdict is in from Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s review of the necropsies of the lives lost, we must hold people accountable, and address all the issues that have led to these catastrophic endings.
In no other sport would deaths of this nature be normalized. Would anyone tolerate 29 football players dead since Christmas? Twenty-nine hockey players? Of course they wouldn’t, and there is not one reason why it should be tolerated for thoroughbreds.
Judie Mancuso is founder and CEO of Social Compassion in Legislation, an animal advocacy group that develops legislation to support animal rights and protection.