Eskenforadrink, a 4-year-old filly who was the even-money favorite in Saturday’s third race at Santa Anita Park, suffered an injury to her right front ankle during the race and had to be euthanized, racing officials said.
It was the first injury suffered by a horse at Santa Anita since the park re-opened Thursday after it was closed for two days of soil inspection last week amid a rash of 19 horse deaths in two months.
“Certainly (horse) racing has risks, as racing does in virtually any sport,” Rick Arthur, medical director of the California Horse Racing Board, told City News Service after confirming the thoroughbred’s death.
Arthur said a necropsy will be performed on Eskenforadrink, who was bred in Kentucky but spent her racing career in California.
A necropsy is conducted for every racehorse who dies at a California track, but state horse racing board Medical Director Rick Arthur said it was too early to say if the track played a role in the injury.
The abnormal amount of rain that has fallen over Southern California this winter has been mentioned as a possible factor in the upsurge in horse deaths, with close to a foot of rain falling in February alone.
“These are thousand-pound animals going close to 40 miles per hour,” Arthur told the Los Angeles Daily News last week. “So if you don’t have a consistent surface, it can be hazardous.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into safety and had a very, very good year last year,” Arthur said. “We’ve clearly taken a step back and hopefully it’s a blip on the radar because of the weather. That’s our expectation, but no matter what it is, we’re going to make it better.”
Park officials said late Wednesday that analysts conducting tests of the racing surface had declared it ready for reopening. Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky, who evaluates the track’s soil on a monthly basis, said the track was “100 percent ready” for racing to resume.
“The ground-penetrating radar verified all of the materials, silt, clay and sand, as well as moisture content, are consistent everywhere on this track,” Peterson said. “This testing ensures all components, the 5-inch cushion, pad and base are consistent and in good order.”
Mike Marten, public information officer with the California Horse Racing Board, told City News Service that research does not show an increase in fatalities during rainy season.
“While inclement weather poses additional challenges for track maintenance, historical records do not show significant seasonal differences,” Marten said.
On Monday morning, Charmer John, a 3-year-old gelding, was euthanized after he suffered a catastrophic injury to his left front fetlock during training. It was the 19th death of a horse at the busy racetrack since Dec. 26.
During the same December-to-February period a year ago, 10 horses died at Santa Anita, in 2016-17 there were eight and in 2015-16 there were 14, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Santa Anita averaged more than 55 horse deaths per year from 2008-18, according to data from the California Horse Racing Board — a total of 553 deaths in all.
“The number of fatalities at Santa Anita Park this year has been unusual,” said Marten, who noted that the board’s most recent annual report — written before the recent upsurge in Santa Anita deaths — cited progress in reducing racehorse deaths overall in the state.
“Admittedly, even one death of a racehorse is too many, but it is a sign of progress that the industry is finding solutions to a problem that for far too long has perplexed all of us who care deeply about the safety and welfare of horses,” CHRB Chairman Chuck Winner stated in the report. “Equine fatalities in California horse racing have been reduced by nearly 60 percent over the last 13 years, with much of that decrease in the last year alone.”
The report cited several factors for the improvement, including long layoffs and histories to identify at-risk horses.
The recent spike of deaths at Santa Anita was not discussed at the CHRB’s most recent meeting last Thursday, which was held at Santa Anita, Marten told CNS.
“Even though this matter was not discussed at the Feb. 21 public meeting, commissioners and senior staff of the California Horse Racing Board have been working with Santa Anita management over safety concerns. The decision by Santa Anita to close the main track for training on Tuesday and Wednesday is a continuation of that process,” he said.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, issued a statement Tuesday saying “we consider the safety and security of the athletes, both equine and human, who race at our facilities to be our top priority.”
“All industry stakeholders, including our company, must be held accountable for the safety and security of the horses and we are committed to doing just that,” he said.
Representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said they canceled a planned protest at Santa Anita race track Tuesday, “after meeting with track representatives who pledged to take definitive steps, including extending the review of medication records to horses who are in training — and not just before races,” said David W. Perle, assistant media manager for PETA.
“Research sponsored by the California Horse Racing Board shows why horses break down and the fault lies with the trainers and veterinarians who drug horses with a cocktail of anti-inflammatories, painkillers, sedatives and more to keep them running when they should be recuperating,” Perle said. “This masks soreness and injury — and injured horses are vulnerable to broken bones. Horses who require medication should not be anywhere near a track. PETA believes that there are innumerable problems with horse racing, but, as a bare minimum, all medications should be banned for at least a week before a horse races or trains, which would effectively stop lame horses from being able to run. PETA will continue to meet with Santa Anita officials in the coming days.”
Another group of demonstrators is scheduled to protest the horse deaths at Santa Anita at 11 a.m. Sunday.
On Friday, PETA called on the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to launch “an immediate investigation into the deaths of 19 Thoroughbred horses used for racing in just the first eight weeks of the Santa Anita racetrack’s current season. The horses sustained broken bones while racing or training, and PETA believes that they likely had undisclosed injuries that were masked by medications given to keep lame and unfit horses competing, and that while the drugs may be legal, racing injured horses likely violates state anti-cruelty laws.”
PETA also called on the CHRB to investigate the trainers of all the horses who died in the last two months and review all veterinary records.
“If 19 football players died during one season, there would be hell to pay — and it would be an understatement to say that the NFL would be under scrutiny,” PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said. “If trainers know that horses are sore or injured, and they’re giving them painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sedatives to keep them running when they should be resting, the trainers are culpable in these deaths and should be charged with cruelty to animals.”
Santa Anita track management could not be reached for comment about the horse’s death.