The California Horse Racing Board Thursday granted Los Alamitos Race Course a license to conduct quarter horse racing in the 2020-21 season, but only for six months instead of the full year on the original agenda, prompting the track’s owner to angrily threaten to shut it down.
“The people (owners, trainers and other stakeholders) are making preparations and plans. This is devastating for Los Al. It’ll become a real estate development. I don’t want that to happen,” Dr. Ed Allred told the board.
Los Alamitos had applied to hold quarter horse races from Dec. 23 of this year through Dec. 21, 2021. But after the board approved new regulations limiting the amount of drugs horses can be given before racing at Los Alamitos, Commissioner Oscar Gonzales introduced a 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.
That motion prompted Allred to dial back into the teleconference meeting and tell the board, “Don’t bother. We cannot conduct racing under these conditions.”
But Gonzales would not be deterred.
“We’ve had a record number of fatalities that have been unacceptable,” he told Allred. “Some of us on this board have asked you to stop racing until we could get to the bottom of it (when the CHRB briefly placed Los Alamitos on probation in July). You didn’t want to do that.”
The board voted on Gonzales’ motion and split 3-3, meaning the motion failed. Commissioners then voted on the original motion for the full-year application and again split 3-3, apparently leaving Los Alamitos without a license for 2021.
But just as they were about to move on to their next item, commissioners reconsidered and held a second vote on Gonzales’ motion. This time it passed 5-1, with Chairman Greg Ferraro voting no, “because I think we’re making a mistake.”
The board will now review Los Alamitos’ safety record at its June meeting, with the option of extending the license beyond its current expiration date of June 30. There was no immediate word from Allred on whether he would make good on his threat to shut down.
The application was on the agenda for last month’s meeting, but was tabled so the track could present the medication plan. According to the new regulations, horses shall not race within 14 days of an intra-articular joint injection, within 30 days of a corticosteroid joint injection, or within 60 days of two injections.
Officials suspect that those injections have contributed to the high number of equine fatalities this year at the Cypress track, where at least 29 horses have died from racing or training injuries.
CHRB Executive Director Scott Chaney told commissioners last month that evaluations of fatalities at Los Alamitos showed horses there were injected an average of three times over their lifetimes. That was far more than the 0.6 average for the racehorse fatalities at Del Mar, Santa Anita Park, and Golden Gate Fields.
A handful of animal rights activists opposed the license approval during Thursday’s teleconference meeting. They cited the frequency of racehorse fatalities at Los Alamitos and read the names of several horses who were injured at the track and have neither raced again nor been listed as fatalities by the CHRB, asking what became of them.
Los Alamitos was briefly placed on probation by the CHRB on 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.
Since the probation was lifted, at least 10 more horses have died, seven from racing injuries and three from causes listed by the CHRB as “other.”
The Cypress track has long been plagued by a high number of horse deaths. According to CHRB data, Los Alamitos saw 42 horses die during the 2018-19 season, with 33 of the deaths caused by racing or training activities. The track had 41 horses die during the 2017-18 season, 56 deaths in 2016-17, 63 in 2015-16, and 57 in 2014-15.
Los Alamitos is currently holding nighttime quarter horse races through Dec. 20, without fans due to the coronavirus.
The board also unanimously approved an application to conduct a horse racing meeting at Santa Anita Park from Dec. 23 through June 22, 2021.