D.A. forms task force to investigate horse deaths at Santa Anita

Horses run on the turf course at Santa Anita Park last month. The Los Angeles County district attorney on Tuesday announced the creation of a task force to investigate the rise in horse deaths at the racetrack.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey on Tuesday announced the creation of a task force that will investigate conditions at Santa Anita Park after 23 horses died at the racetrack over a three-month period.

The task force will include deputy district attorneys and law enforcement officials within the D.A.’s office whose goal will be to determine “whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses” at the park, Lacey said.

The first thoroughbred lost in the recent spate of deaths died in late December. The most recent, a 5-year-old gelding named Arms Runner, died late last month.


Arms Runner was euthanized after falling on the dirt track crossover in a 6 1/2-furlong race on the hillside turf course and breaking his right front leg.

Ten of the horse deaths have occurred during training on the main dirt track. There have been seven deaths during or after races on the dirt. Even though the latest death occurred on dirt, it will be categorized as a turf, or grass, fatality.

On March 1, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals requested an investigation into the deaths as violations of California animal cruelty laws. In a three-page letter to Lacey, the animal-rights group cited historical data but nothing specific about the current string of deaths.

PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo said in a statement Tuesday that the organization hopes the investigation will provide some answers about the horses’ deaths.

“The public deserves to know whether injured horses were medicated and subjected to painful shockwave therapy just to keep them running, even though their bones were likely to snap,” she said. “The racing industry has shown that it’s incapable of policing itself, and PETA hopes this task-force investigation will finally lead to the end of abusive practices that are killing horses on tracks in California.”

The entire sport has faced intense scrutiny from animal-rights advocates, whose concerns have generated significant interest from the public because of the number of equine deaths.


“We welcome an investigation,” Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said last month. “It’s long past the time that these unfounded accusations be proven wrong and that everyone realize that our trainers’ first concern is always for their horses.”

Times contributor John Cherwa contributed to this report

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