Derby River is 27th horse to die since Santa Anita opened meet Dec. 26

More than two dozen horse deaths have been reported since Dec. 26 at Santa Anita Park, leaving the racing industry in a quandary.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

A 27th horse has died since Santa Anita opened its meeting on Dec. 26 after the colt Derby River sustained a catastrophic injury while training Wednesday morning. After six weeks without a death, there have been four fatalities since May 17.

Derby River, an unraced 2-year-old bought in March for $50,000 at a sale in Florida, suffered a fractured shoulder, according to his trainer Ruben Gomez.

The horse was euthanized in Chino, and it’s unclear if it would technically be called a Santa Anita fatality since the colt was euthanized off-site. The California Horse Racing Board hasn’t recently dealt with a situation like this.


The horse was euthanized at a clinic in Chino so it was unclear whether the death would technically be called a Santa Anita fatality. However, Mike Marten, California Horse Racing Board spokesman, said “in the interest of full transparency, we will be treating it as an on-track training death and do a full necropsy and count it in the statistics.”

Gomez was obviously still pained by the incident when contacted on Thursday.

“I sent him to hospital, but there was nothing they could do to save him,” Gomez said. “It can be a common injury in babies. He just came up from Florida.”

Gomez said the horse was sent to Chino because he was told the clinic has the best specialists in this area and enhanced radiography.

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“I am so sad,” Gomez said. “I ride my horses every day and I get so attached to them, especially my babies.”

Shoulder and humerus — the bone that connects to the shoulder — injuries are not common. According to data compiled by the CHRB, during the 2016-17 fiscal year, only 10 of the 170 fatalities in the state were in the shoulder-humerus area. In 2017-18, only four of 113 were in that region.


On May 17, Commander Coil also sustained a life-ending shoulder fracture while galloping, which is not considered a strenuous activity.

Statistical oddities have seemed to be a hallmark of this crisis, be it the near 20 deaths in 10 weeks followed by the six weeks without any fatalities.

The latest death could be a blow to Santa Anita’s hope of hosting the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 1-2. The Breeders’ Cup board meets in Lexington, Ky., during the last week of the month. It’s there that it is expected a decision will be made on the host of this year’s event.

Another horse dies at Santa Anita; 26 thoroughbreds have died at the track since Dec. 26 »

It could come down to the committee relying on perception, and the possibility that race-week talk will be about horse deaths.

Last year the national average of fatal injuries was 1.68 horses for every 1,000 starts. Santa Anita’s was 2.04, behind Churchill Downs’ staggering 2.73.


Since the reforms were announced and some put in place in mid-March, Santa Anita has a 1.43 death rate per 1,000 starts. That is based on 2,087 starts. In training sessions, Santa Anita has a 0.015 death rate.

Most states do not report training fatalities and some, such as Kentucky, are difficult to extract data on any fatalities. California has one of the most open policies for reporting on horse injuries.

The death of Derby River was the second for Gomez, who had Derby Treasure, a 4-year-old filly, go down on Jan. 11 in a six-furlong $30,000 maiden claiming race. She was winless in eight starts before that race.

Racing is expected to continue at the Arcadia track for the next three Friday through Sunday weekends. Closing day is June 23.

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