Los Alamitos Race Course began its two-week thoroughbred meet Saturday under the glare of increased scrutiny of California’s horse-racing deaths — with added protocols put in place by state regulators.
A five-member review panel will evaluate every horse scheduled to race at the track, the California Horse Racing Board announced Friday.
“The panels, similar to the one established during the last two weekends at Santa Anita, will be in place for the upcoming Los Alamitos Summer Thoroughbred Meet June 29-July 14 and the Del Mar Summer Meet July 17-September 2,” the California Horse Racing Board announced Friday.
“Los Alamitos and Del Mar have shown their strong commitment to helping improve horse and rider safety by agreeing to these panels,” CHRB Chairman Chuck Winner said. “We look forward to working with them during their meets.”
According to the CHRB, 38 horses were either scratched from races or denied entry to races due to the panel’s recommendations over two weekend’s at Santa Anita.
However, unlike at Santa Anita, Los Alamitos will not require the panel to inspect horses before they are allowed to train.
The issue drew increased attention when 30 horses died at Santa Anita’s recently concluded winter/spring meet. But data from the CHRB show that Santa Anita’s death toll, while tragic, was nowhere near unusual for California racetracks.
Los Alamitos, for instance, saw 41 horses die during the 2017-18 season, 56 deaths in 2016-17, 63 deaths in 2015-16, and 57 deaths in 2014-15.
Animal-rights activists with Horseracing Wrongs — a New York-based group that advocates for a nationwide ban on the sport — were demonstrating outside the Los Alamitos gates Saturday, as they did throughout much of Santa Anita’s recently concluded meet.
Organizer Heather Wilson said the CHRB’s efforts to increase safety are not enough.
“Reform is not an option, this is beyond repair,” she said. “It is time to imagine a California that does not allow horse racing.”
Track workers have said shutting down the industry would lead to thousands of job losses.
In April, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the creation of a task force to investigate the deaths of the horses at Santa Anita. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, both called for racing to be suspended at the track until the deaths could be fully investigated.
Racing was halted at Santa Anita for most of March while examinations were conducted on the track. Races resumed April 4 after the state horse racing board approved a series of safety measures.
The new rules include restrictions on certain medications and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
On June 9, responding to the 28th death of the season, the CHRB recommended that Santa Anita suspend racing for its final two weekends. Track officials declined, however, and hours later Truffalino, a 3-year-old filly, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack during a race conducted in temperatures reaching into the upper 90s.
At the time, the CHRB did not have the authority to suspend a race meet or remove race dates from a current race meet without the approval of the race track operator or without holding a public meeting with 10 days public notice. However, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Wednesday to give the board authority to suspend racing meet licenses to protect the safety of horses and jockeys if the CHRB deems there to be an issue.