Animal-rights activists are planning to renew their calls for an end to horse racing in California on Thursday at Los Alamitos Race Track, where the California Horse Racing Board will hold its monthly meeting.
Members of Horse Racing Wrongs — a New York-based group that advocates for a nationwide ban on the sport — said they would be calling attention to four equine deaths this summer at Los Alamitos:
— On Sept. 7, Free Ricky, a 3-year-old gelding, was euthanized after he was vanned off from a race at the track, according to Rick Baedeker, executive director of the CHRB;
— On Sept. 1, a 6-year-old gelding named Da One Two Special was euthanized at the track after he fell in tight quarters during a 400-yard race, CHRB spokesman Mike Marten said;
— On Aug. 18, Always Checking, a 2-year-old gelding, died after suffering an injury during a race at the track. Always Checking “was pulled up by jockey Jesus Ayala shortly after the start of a 330-yard race then euthanized as a result of injury,” Marten said.
— In July, Cuervo Foose, a 4-year-old gelding, died after suffering a shoulder fracture in a race.
According to CHRB data, Los Alamitos saw 41 horses die during the 2017-18 season, 56 deaths in 2016-17, 63 in 2015-16, and 57 deaths in 2014-15.
Since 2009, the annual number of horse deaths at California tracks ranges from 138 to 320.
The issue has drawn increased attention since 30 horses died at Santa Anita’s winter/spring meet, which concluded earlier this year. Racing was halted at Santa Anita for most of March while examinations were conducted on the track, and resumed April 4 after the CHRB 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, and
Organizer Heather Wilson said earlier this year that 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.
The four recent horse deaths are not on the board’s Thursday agenda, which is highlighted by an expected decision on unallocated race dates in 2020 for tracks in Northern and Southern California, including Los Alamitos, which is currently in the midst of its Sept. 6-22 Los Angeles County Fair Meet.
Demonstrators are also expected to bring up the recent controversy over a New York Times report that last year’s Triple Crown winner, Justify, failed a drug test after winning the Santa Anita Derby in April 2018 to qualify for the following month’s Kentucky Derby. Under CHRB rules, the horse should have been disqualified, but instead the board spent four months investigating the failed test and ultimately concluded that the positive test for the banned substance scopolamine was the result of “environmental contamination” when the horse ate some jimson weed.
Baedeker told the Times that its scientists retested samples from other horses at Santa Anita and found trace amounts of scopolamine in a handful of them, which led the board to seriously consider that Justify and the other horses might have eaten some contaminated feed.
Justify was trained by Bob Baffert, one of only two trainers to win the Triple Crown twice. The Louisville Courier-Journal has reported that former CHRB board chairman Chuck Winner, whose term expired earlier this year, owns a stake in one of Baffert’s horses, and CHRB vice chairman Madeline Auerbach has bred horses in partnership with Baffert.
Winner told columnist Bryce Miller in the San Diego Union-Tribune that he checked with CHRB lawyers regarding his involvement in the Justify decision.
“I had one horse and it was a minority interest,” Winner said “I wasn’t the decision-maker in any way on that horse. And I did go to counsel, as I always do if there are any questions.”