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Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls for suspension of races at Santa Anita

A few horses and riders are seen on the track while members of the California Horse Racing Board wei
Twenty-three horses have died at Santa Anita since the start of their winter/spring meet on Dec. 26.
(Amanda Lee Myers / Associated Press)

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein called for the suspension of races at Santa Anita until an investigation into what has caused 23 horses to die at the track since late December is complete.

In a letter sent to California Horse Racing Board chairman Chuck Winner on Tuesday, the Democratic senator wrote she is “appalled that almost two dozen horses have died in just four months.”

“I believe that racing at Santa Anita should be suspended until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated,” Feinstein wrote. “I also ask for more information about what the California Horse Racing Board is doing to both investigate this matter and address some of the concerns that these incidents have rightly raised.”

Feinstein asked the CHRB whether it was considering other changes to improve the safety of horses after it agreed to phase out race-day medications and limit the use of whips on horses.

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“While these are positive initial steps, please let me know whether the Board is considering other actions that have been proposed by trainers and animal welfare advocates, including the complete elimination of medications such as Lasix and the use of synthetic track surfaces,” Feinstein wrote. “In your view, would these or other steps be reasonable measures to prevent horse injuries and death?”

The CHRB set its next meeting for April 12 at Santa Anita. Among the agenda items is a discussion, and possible action, to determine if the board has the authority to reassign race dates from Santa Anita, should it be necessary. A similar item was on the agenda of the last meeting. The CHRB is a regulatory agency and does not have the sweeping powers to enact change that a league or commissioner’s office might have in other sports.

Rep. Judy Chu (D) called for a congressional hearing and investigation into the treatment of horses Monday, a day after Arms Runner became the 23rd horse to die at Santa Anita since the start of the track’s winter/spring meet on Dec. 26. The track reopened Friday after being closed to racing for nearly a month after 21 horses died over a 10-week span.

Races are scheduled to resume Thursday ahead of Santa Anita’s biggest race — the $1-million Santa Anita Derby on Saturday.

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Times staff writer John Cherwa contributed to this report.

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