California Senator Dianne Feinstein on Monday joined those calling for the suspension of racing at Santa Anita after the track suffered two horse deaths over the weekend.
The fatalities increased the total to 29 since Dec. 26 when the track opened its current meeting.
Feinstein’s call for closure comes a day after the California Horse Racing Board also asked for the track to close for the remainder of the meeting — just six days. The track denied the request and plans to stay open.
“Santa Anita should have suspended racing in March after 23 horses died over a three-month stretch to open the season,” Feinstein said. “Now that six more horses have died in just 23 days — 29 total deaths this season — the track should suspend racing immediately.”
Several months from now, it’s possible the CHRB would have the authority to immediately suspend a license or move races. There is a legislative bill — SB 469 — that would allow the CHRB to enact emergency measures and, after a vote, call for a track’s temporary closure. Currently, it must first go through a 10-day public notice period, publish an agenda and any supplemental material.
“This isn’t an isolated year for Santa Anita,” Feinstein said. “During the ’17-18 season, 44 horses died; during the ’16-17 season 64 horses died; and during the 2015-16 season, 62 horses died.
“That’s 199 dead horses at one track in four racing seasons. Something is seriously wrong — whether it’s the track itself or problems with training and medication. No one seems to know, yet training and racing continues.”
When the CHRB asked Santa Anita to close Sunday, it did suggest the track remain open for training. If training were not available to the near 2,000 horses at Santa Anita, who cannot be left in their stalls every day without exercise, there would be a crisis. Del Mar, which is the next major long-term circuit for horses in Southern California, will not have its track available for training until July 11. The facility is owned by the state, which holds other events at the Fairgrounds.
Santa Anita, along with the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, issued a statement late Sunday night, saying in part: “After extensive consultation among all partners. Santa Anita will stay open through the end of its meet to see these reforms through.”
The track was referring to medication and protocol changes that are in effect at Santa Anita and meant to change public perception about the sport. The most controversial was the decision to eventually eliminate the use of Lasix, which is used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, or bleeding from the lungs, on race days.
Medical experts show no correlation between Lasix and breakdowns. However, the U.S. is one of the few countries that allows Lasix on race days.