State regulators, in a reversal of a decision made last month, Thursday extended an operating license by six months for quarter horse racing at Los Alamitos Race Course, where two horses died last weekend while training at the Cypress track.
The California Horse Racing Board voted 4-3 to extend the license for Los Alamitos through Dec. 21.
On Dec. 17, the CHRB approved new regulations limiting the amount of drugs horses can be given before racing at Los Alamitos and granted Los Alamitos a license to conduct quarter horse racing in the 2020-21 season, but only for six months instead of the full year track owners had requested.
Commissioner Oscar Gonzales introduced the motion to limit the license to six months so the board could revisit the issue and examine whether the new changes were successful in reducing the number of equine deaths at the track, which exceeded 30 last year.
“The idea of a six-month license had everything to do with accountability,” Gonzales said at Thursday’s meeting, during which he voted against extending the license but praised the race track’s staff presentation.
“I feel that the presentation made today by Los Alamitos’ management team was an important show of leadership and commitment,” he said. “It’s probably one of the better presentations I’ve ever seen.”
Gonzales pointed to new federal regulations and advised Los Alamitos to be mindful of caretaking and safety going forward.
Board member Wendy Mitchell said she was “disappointed” the board had to revisit the issue.
“There are some serious credibility issues with the threats made at the last meeting,” she said, referring to track owner Dr. Ed Allred’s comment that he would consider taking his business elsewhere.
“That’s not a way to work with a regulatory body and it’s not an appropriate response,” Mitchell said. “We shouldn’t get into threatening back and forth.”
Mitchell added, “It’s not my intention whatsoever… to close down Los Alamitos. We want to work with them and work on horse racing.”
Mitchell also praised the track’s presentation on Thursday as “much better.”
Board member Alex Solis said “that if we don’t approve this one-year license, we’re risking the loss of quarter horse racing in California” and many track employees would lose their jobs.
Board Chairman Gregory Ferraro said the industry is already experiencing “economic hardship resulting from the Covid pandemic,” and that not approving a year-long plan would stir up animosity between the agency and the horse racers.
“Any success CHRB has achieved over the past few years is through the willing cooperating of the racing entities,” Ferraro said. “Why convert those partnerships into adversarial relationships?”
Ferraro said Los Alamitos “responded positively” when confronted with safety issues. “Are we not going to give them a chance to prove the effectiveness” of the race course’s reforms?, he asked.
Board member Damascus Castellanos said there is a “misunderstanding” about the difference in the thoroughbred and quarter horse racing industries. The quarter horse racing industry always relies on annual licenses because “the business has a future a year or two years (planned) down the road,” he said.
“These horsemen put that money in and invest that far out — that’s the business of California and California benefits from that,” Castellanos said. “If that’s not for sure for 12 months, then some of these horsemen will take their horses elsewhere to New Mexico and other places.”
Castellanos noted the board always reserves the right to “review, deny and remove licenses” at any time.
Board member Brenda Washington Davis asked about the details of the deaths of the two horses on Jan. 17.
According to the CHRB’s website, Don’t Stop Looking, a 3-year-old filly, and Noor Khan, a 4-year-old mare, died Sunday — the first deaths to occur at the track since Dec. 16.
Executive Director Scott Chaney said the necropsy results were not yet available, but added they were two training-related fatalities, and that in at least one of the cases, there will be “some action being taken against a trainer and a veterinarian.” Chaney added that the other horse completed a workout and then there was a “sudden death in its stall.”
At the CHRB’s December meeting, Allred reacted to Gonzales’ motion by threatening to withdraw his application for a license altogether and said the track would be in danger of closing down.
“It’ll become a real estate development. I don’t want that to happen,” Allred told the board.
Los Alamitos was briefly placed on probation by the CHRB last July 10 due to a spate of racehorse deaths. At that time at least 20 horses had died at the track in 2020 after suffering racing or training injuries, and another 10 had succumbed to gastrointestinal and other types of illnesses.
On July 20, the CHRB unanimously signed off on a plan to allow Los Alamitos to continue holding races after track officials agreed to add several layers of oversight. The additional protocols including added another veterinarian to be a “roving observer of horses in training, while entering, exiting, or on the track,” as well as a “security steward” who oversees veterinary and barn practices, and an “entry review panel” of experts who have the authority to scratch horses for races.
After the probation was lifted, at least 10 more horses died, seven from racing injuries and three from causes listed by the CHRB as “other.”
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