The California Horse Racing Board will meet by teleconference Thursday to consider whether to grant Los Alamitos Race Course a license to conduct quarter horse racing in the 2020-21 season, after a cluster of equine deaths led the board to place the track on probation earlier this year.
Los Alamitos is currently holding nighttime quarter horse races through Dec. 20, without fans due to the coronavirus. The new license would allow the track to hold quarter horse races commencing on Dec. 23 of this year through Dec. 21, 2021.
A separate thoroughbred meet is scheduled for Dec. 4-20 of this year. Licenses for thoroughbred meets are typically considered two months before each meet is scheduled to start.
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.
At the time of the board’s July 10 action placing the track on probation, at least 19 horses had died since the beginning of the year after suffering racing or training injuries, and another 10 had succumbed to gastrointestinal and other types of illnesses.
Since the probation, at least eight more horses have died, five 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 officials did not respond to a request for comment about their application.
The added measures adopted by Los Alamitos this summer included adding 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.
The measures also include an “entry review panel” of experts who have the authority to scratch horses for races.
Any death at the track now triggers a review.
“I can assure you we’re all kind of humiliated by this whole thing,” Los Alamitos Race Course owner Dr. Ed Allred told the board in July. “We’re going to do all that we can, everything we possibly can, to do things properly in the future. Some of our trainers are upset, but they will adjust to it.”
Commissioner Dennis Alfieri replied that if trainers were disgruntled, “You know what, too bad. There are a lot of trainers who call themselves — quote, unquote — trainers and they’re not trainers. They have one or two horses and they bring them in. That has always made me uneasy about this whole industry — people who call themselves trainers who shouldn’t be trainers… If these trainers don’t want to step up to the plate and raise their own bar, they should be out.”
Commissioner Wendy Mitchell said, “What we’re doing as a commission is sending a message to the trainers and jockeys… We want to give the track at Los Alamitos the backbone and knowing they have our support to crack down.”
Dr. Rebecca Fitzgerald, the veterinarian on staff at the track, said in July that the plan had already shown results.
“I have personally seen an improvement based on the new system that we’re implementing, more so than I expected to see,” Fitzgerald told the commissioners.
She said the plan was “instrumental” in taking a couple of horses out of races.
“We had a really great calendar year last year… and adding what we have is no doubt going to make a great difference,” Fitzgerald said.
“I agree with Dr. Allred,” Fitzgerald said, asserting that horse deaths are an embarrassment. “I pride myself on our numbers and they have been really great and then recently what happened you just can’t have, so whatever we have to do to get them back to how they were last year is really what we have to do and I think this plan will help us get there.”
At the July 10 meeting, board Chairman Gregory L. Ferraro said, “I think there is a culture there with the veterinarians and trainers pushing the envelope.”
The board’s veterinarian, Dr. Rick Arthur, said he thinks Los Alamitos is fine and is not the issue, but added, “What I do see that is questionable … training and horse practices… veterinary practices… multiple and repeated injections often without diagnostic procedures.”