Amid growing calls for a halt to horse racing in California due to a spate of horse deaths at Santa Anita racetrack, workers at the Arcadia track Thursday professed their love for the animals and said shutting down the industry would lead to thousands of job losses.
The backstretch workers — those who work in the stables and generally behind the scenes caring for horses that train and race at Santa Anita — pointed to the wide reach of the industry, saying thousands of people stand to lose their jobs if racing is halted.
Pointing to the more than 100 workers gathered behind him, spokesman Oscar de la Torre described them as “people that love horses and do everything in their power to take care of the horses. People that have realized the American Dream working here at Santa Anita. People who fear losing their jobs.”
The workers held signs proclaiming their love of horses, while others noted the economic impact of the track, with a sign reading, “Santa Anita jobs help the economy.”
“I just love the horses. The horses are a big part of my life. I care for the horses,” worker James Corral told KTLA at the rally.
The workers spoke out at a news conference in response to increasing questions about the safety of the sport, brought on by the deaths of 29 horses at Santa Anita since Dec. 26. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has been among the elected leaders calling for a halt to racing. Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom weighed in, saying no horses should be allowed to race unless they are medically cleared.
Santa Anita and the California Horse Racing Board responded to that call, creating a “safety review team” that evaluates all horses at the track. The five-member panel of veterinarians and stewards has the authority to scratch a horse from a race if even one panelist questions the animal’s fitness.
Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, issued a statement noting the plight of the track workers, saying they need to be part of “continuing reform.”
“The backstretch workers have very little chance of continuing employment if horses keep dying,” she said. “Safe horses mean safe jobs. If these workers don’t already support continuing reform, they should get behind it right now.”
The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, issued a statement saying the workers have played a role in the changes being made at the park in an effort to bolster safety.
“Backstretch workers comprise the backbone of the racing industry and have been a willing partner in implementing the reforms we have proposed at Santa Anita Park — and the California Horse Racing Board implemented — during the course of this meeting,” according to the group. “Support from these backstretch workers is a testament to the commitment from within the industry to modernize our sport.
“We look forward to working with the hundreds of backstretch workers at Santa Anita Park as we continue to move the industry forward and educate Californians on how impactful horse racing is to the state.”
The racing meet at Santa Anita will conclude Sunday, but training activities will continue into next month. But groups such as PETA are continuing their efforts to have horseracing halted altogether statewide. The backstretch workers say such a move would put many of them on the streets, contributing to the area’s already rampant homelessness problem.
“There’s a lot of families involved — the workers, owners, trainers. Everybody’s going to be affected,” track worker Cesar Garcia told KTLA.
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