“While this incident happened during competition on a track that has been deemed by independent experts to be safe,” Santa Anita said in a statement, “we are working closely with the [California Horse Racing Board] to understand if there was anything additional that we could have done to prevent [the] tragedy.”
Racing at the track had resumed Friday after it was stopped March 3 for an investigation into the previous deaths. The main dirt course, where most of the deaths since Dec. 26 had occurred, was subjected to a number of tests, with no conclusive explanation for fatalities that drew national attention, from animal rights groups and others. Heavy rain was considered as a potential factor; the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, also announced a reduction in the amount of Lasix, an antibleeding medication, that horses can be given on race days. That went into effect when the track reopened Friday. In addition, a proposal to eliminate the use of whips is under consideration.
The timing of the latest death presents yet another big problem for the track, with workouts resuming Monday and races on Thursday. Looming Saturday is the biggest day of the meeting, with the $1 million Santa Anita Derby, featuring potential Kentucky Derby contenders, and the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies. In addition, the $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap, originally set for March 9, will take place on Saturday. In all, there will be seven stakes races, including three Grade 1 events (which feature the best horses). The meeting ends June 23.
Sunday’s incident happened on an unusual grass setup that begins at the top of a hill, turns slightly to the right and has an 80-foot dirt crossing over the dirt track before it returns to grass. Arms Runner, according to the Los Angeles Times, was just a few strides from reaching the grass when he fell.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called for “all drugs” to be banned and the adoption of a synthetic track, “the known safest racing surface.” Santa Anita had a synthetic surface from 2007 to 2010, but drainage and surface temperatures that reached over 100 degrees were problems and it was abandoned. According to the Times, 10 of the fatalities occurred while training on the dirt surface, seven while racing on the dirt and six during turf races.