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Another horse dies at Santa Anita, this time on the track

Santa Anita track personnel tend to Emtech, who broke down in the stretch on Saturday.
Santa Anita track personnel tend to Emtech, who broke down in the stretch Saturday.
(Beth Harris / Associated Press)

Santa Anita, trying to shake the memories of a winter/spring meet in which 30 horses died, was met with a gruesome breakdown on the front stretch Saturday, which is likely to intensify the debate over the safety and viability of horse racing in California.

Emtech was running clear down the stretch during the eighth race when he broke both front legs. The 3-year-old colt crashed to the ground, sending jockey Mario Gutierrez over the horse and to the dirt surface.

Track veterinarians were immediately on site and made the decision to euthanize the horse on the track. Gutierrez remained on the ground and a stretcher was brought out, but he got up on his own power and was taken to the first-aid center. Gutierrez was uninjured but was taken off his final mount of the day.

The death occurred on the second day of the 23-day meeting. Southern California hadn’t had a thoroughbred racing fatality since June 9, when Truffalino died at Santa Anita. Since then, there have been six training deaths, one during the previous Santa Anita meeting, four at Del Mar and one Sept. 16 at Santa Anita when the track was open for training but not racing.

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Saturday’s death came on the same day as one of Santa Anita’s signature fall races, the Grade 1 $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes, which was won by Mongolian Groom over heavy favorite McKinzie. The crowd was a larger than normal 11,997, no doubt because of the three graded stakes races.

Mongolian Groom’s likely next race will be the Breeders’ Cup Classic, if the owners pay a supplemental fee of $150,000. The race will be held at Santa Anita on the weekend of Nov. 1-2. The racing fatalities had become such an issue at Santa Anita that the Breeders’ Cup met to discuss the breakdowns and voted June 27 to keep the event at the track.

“As is protocol at Santa Anita, we will open an immediate review into what factors could have contributed to Emtech’s injury,” said Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinarian for the Stronach Group. “Santa Anita will work closely with the California Horse Racing Board and will continue to brief our stakeholders and all of our constituents.

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“Emtech will undergo a necropsy at [the UC Davis] school of veterinary medicine, as is mandatory for all on-track accidents. The accident and the necropsy report will be reviewed by a team to learn what, if anything, could have been done to have prevented the accident.”

Emtech was running for the sixth time, in a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race. He had two wins and one second and a third. His won his first race, a maiden claiming race on Oct. 6 of last year at Santa Anita, and was claimed. However, the veterinarian voided the claim because the horse was found to be unsound and was placed on the Veterinarian’s List.

On Oct. 29, he failed a workout that would have removed him from the list. He was taken off the track in November and did not work again until May of this year. On June 20, he passed a required five-furlong workout and was removed from the Veterinarian’s List.

He was on the panel’s special examination list for races July 6 at Los Alamitos and Aug. 8 at Del Mar.

“After passing five examinations and racing successfully for those races, he was not flagged by the [review] panel for special attention in his subsequent races other than his required pre-race examinations,” said Mike Marten, a spokesman for the CHRB.

After his Del Mar race, he was claimed and went from the barn of Simon Callaghan to Steve Knapp, who was racing the colt Saturday. The horse was bred and originally owned by Kaleem Shah and then was claimed by Steven and Sabina Romo Zoltas.

The death will only intensify the debate over the safety of horse racing. In the midst of the spate of fatalities earlier this year, Santa Anita instituted a series of veterinary and medication reforms and fatality rate dropped dramatically. In addition, the state created a panel of medical and safety experts that evaluates the soundness and risks in each horse that was racing at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Los Alamitos.

Both the CHRB and Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office launched investigations into the deaths, but no conclusions have been released.

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“D.A. [Jackie] Lacey needs to release the findings on the culpability of trainers and veterinarians who may have used drugs, knee joint injections, and other dangerous methods to keep injured horses racing,” said Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of PETA.

Before Saturday’s racing at Santa Anita, animal rights protesters and counter-protesters representing the backstretch workers lined up on opposite sides on the main entrance of Santa Anita. There were no incidents.

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