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Santa Anita death toll for horses rises to 19 in last two months after another one died Monday

In a photo provided by Benoit Photo, Unique Bella, left, with jockey Mike Smith, and other horses le
Horses leave the gate on June 2, 2018, at Santa Anita.
(Benoit Photo / Associated Press)

Santa Anita suffered its 19th horse death since Dec. 26 when a 3-year-old gelding went down entering the stretch during training on Monday morning.

Charmer John, who finished sixth of eight in his only race on Feb. 14, suffered a catastrophic injury to his left front fetlock and was euthanized. He was trained by Mark Glatt.

The death comes one day after Santa Anita announced it was closing the track on Monday and Tuesday to do surface and soil sampling to try and determine whether there was some irregularity that was causing the breakdowns. However, some trainers, including Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer, objected to the closure and Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, reversed his decision and agreed to allow the track to be open Monday until 9 a.m. Those trainers said they believed the track was safe.

There were 121 horses who had timed workouts and hundreds more who exercised or galloped on the surface Monday.

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Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said his group asked to be part of a Sunday call between the California Horse Racing Board and Santa Anita executives but was denied.

“The decisions to close and reopen the track were made without consultation with our group and without us hearing the arguments, pro and con,” Balch said. “With that said, we are committed to offering all the support we can to ensure the safety of our horses, jockeys and workers and stand ready to do whatever we can to help solve this tragic set of circumstances.”

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Santa Anita is bringing in Mick Peterson, a track and safety expert from the University of Kentucky, to do testing and evaluate the racing surfaces. While early in the evaluation process, no cause for the sudden increase has been determined and the racing surface is but one of many possibilities. An abnormal amount of rain, 11½ inches, is also being looked at as a mitigating factor.

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So far, six of the fatalities have occurred during dirt racing and five during turf racing. Monday was the eighth death during training, bringing the total to 19. By comparison, last year there were 10 in an equivalent period of time. In 2016-17 there were eight and in 2015-16 there were 14.

Training is expected to resume Wednesday and live racing on Thursday.


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