Satchel Paige, a 3-year-old gelding, was euthanized Saturday after breaking his left front ankle not quite halfway through the fifth race at Santa Anita, the 34th horse death at the track since Dec. 26.
“After being pulled up at the 3/8th pole, Satchel Paige was immediately evaluated by a team of on-track veterinarians led by Santa Anita Park veterinarian Dr. Dana Stead, and transported in the equine ambulance. Dr. Stead observed that the horse had suffered an open fracture of his left front ankle and made the decision to humanely euthanize the gelding,” according to a written statement from the Stronach Group, which operates Santa Anita Park, among other horse-racing venues nationwide.
Jockey Ruben Fuentes was uninjured. Satchel Paige was racing for breeder/owner Nick Alexander, and was trained by Phil D’Amato and his staff, the statement said.
The horse will undergo a necropsy at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine on behalf of the California Horse Racing Board, as required for all on-track deaths. The necropsy report will be used to determine what, if anything, could have prevented the horse’s injury.
“Santa Anita will work closely with the California Horse Racing Board to investigate this accident and will continue to brief our stakeholders and all of our constituents, including the public, as more facts come in,” said Dr. Dionne Benson, Chief Veterinarian for The Stronach Group.
Satchel Paige had six career starts, with no victories, one second-place finish, one third-place finish and $24,000 in earnings, according to Equibase.com.
Santa Anita — and the sport in general — has been under heavy scrutiny since the rash of deaths started garnering more media attention this year than in seasons past.
Racing at Santa Anita Park was halted for most of March while examinations were conducted on the track. They resumed April 4 after the state horse racing board approved a series of safety measures and The Stronach Group announced a series of steps aimed at bolstering the safety of horses at the track, including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get advance permission before putting a horse through a workout and investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
The Stronach Group and the California Horse Racing Board also created a “safety review team” that evaluates all horses at the track. The panel of veterinarians and stewards has the authority to scratch a horse from a race if even one panelist questions the animal’s fitness.
The Stronach Group also announced a seven-member veterinary inspection team for the autumn meet. The team will “oversee every aspect of Santa Anita’s training and racing operation,” a company official said.
Before this weekend, the most recent death was Oct. 5, when a 5-year-old gelding named Ky. Colonel collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack.
That horse had last raced May 4, finishing second in a mile turf race at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, which like Santa Anita Park is owned by The Stronach Group. The layoff was longer than customary.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey created a task force in April of what she described as “experienced deputy district attorneys and sworn peace officers with varied expertise within my office” to “thoroughly investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park.”
Santa Anita Park is currently in the midst of its 23-day autumn racing meet, which will be highlighted by the Breeders’ Cup World Championships Nov. 1-2. It’s the record 10th time the Breeders’ Cup — one of the sport’s major annual events — will be held at Santa Anita Park.
Earlier Saturday, a group of jockeys and horse racing supporters had scheduled a rally outside the track in support of the industry, which is under fire from animal-rights activists who say it should be banned.