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Los Alamitos Race Course potentially facing temporary shutdown over horse deaths

Horses and jockeys charge out of the starting gate during a race at Los Alamitos in June 2019.
Nine horses have died at Los Alamitos Race Course since May 26. The CHRB will meet Friday to determine if the track should temporarily close.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The California Horse Racing Board has called an emergency meeting for Friday to discuss the possibility of shutting down Los Alamitos Race Course temporarily in light of a rise in horse deaths. Since May 26, nine horses have died as the result of racing and training at the Orange County track, bringing the total to 21 since the season started on Dec. 27.

This will be the first meeting called under expanded powers given to the CHRB by the legislature last year after the rise in deaths at Santa Anita. Before SB 469, the CHRB would have to give 10 days’ public notice before it could hold a meeting regarding the suspension of a racing license. Now, it can be done on a day’s notice.

“The CHRB was concerned with what seemed to be an uptick in equine fatalities,” said Scott Chaney, executive director. “We thought it was worthwhile to have a discussion on how to decrease those numbers and reverse the trend.”

Chaney filed a petition for the meeting at 9:25 a.m. on Thursday, five minutes before the deadline to hold a 9:30 a.m. teleconference on Friday.

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“Nothing is predetermined, there is no fait accompli as to what the Board may do,” Chaney said. “They can do nothing, to putting restrictions on them, to closing them down.”

Chaney, who said he decided on the emergency meeting after consulting with chairman Greg Ferraro and vice chair Oscar Gonzales, is not a member of the six-person board. He said he has not discussed it with any other board members.

Los Alamitos was the only track in the state that was allowed to continue operating during the early stages of the pandemic. It runs night racing consisting mostly of quarter horses with some mixed racing with thoroughbreds. The races, Friday through Sunday, are almost always sprints.

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The nighttime meeting is run by a different organization than that which runs the five weeks of daytime thoroughbred races, which just concluded a seven-day meeting with no fatalities or major injuries.

Last year, the CHRB put together an independent panel that would pre-screen horses wishing to run in a particular race based on history, workouts and veterinarian records before they would be able to start. But this was in place for the thoroughbred tracks only.

“It happens in the daytime but not at night,” Chaney said. “Resources are limited, but my plan is to expand it to all tracks as quickly as possible.”

Of the 21 deaths, eight were quarter horses during racing and four during training. There were eight thoroughbred racing deaths and one in training. While Santa Anita was closed to racing, Los Alamitos was writing more races that allowed thoroughbreds to run.

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The meeting will be watched intently by the industry to gauge to effectiveness of SB 469, which was supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The bill came in response to the board asking Santa Anita to shut down and the track refusing. Under the authority of this bill, the board could suspend a track’s license with little more than a day’s notice. The CHRB has to make a determination within five days of the special meeting, but also could do it immediately.

Los Alamitos did not immediately respond for comment on the meeting.

Second test samples from Charlatan and Gamine, both trained by Bob Baffert, confirmed the presence of lidocaine, an anesthetic banned in horse racing.


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