Hours after Santa Anita Park officials declined Sunday to accept a state agency’s recommendation that the track suspend the rest of its meet, another horse died at the storied Southern California venue.
Truffalino, a 3-year-old filly who reportedly collapsed of an apparent heart attack during a race Sunday, became the 29th horse to die since Santa Anita began its winter-spring meet in late December.
Following the death Saturday of Formal Dude, a 4-year-old gelding who reportedly suffered a fractured pelvis during a race and was subsequently euthanized, the California Horse Racing Board attempted to intervene. The CHRB said it recommended that Santa Anita halt racing but “allow horses to continue to train” at the track until the scheduled end of its spring/summer meet June 23, a span in which it is set to hold six more race days.
“This would provide the industry more time to fully implement announced safety initiatives and perhaps additional ones,” the agency said in a statement (via KSWB).
However, the agency noted that it does not have the authority to suspend a meet or remove race dates “without the approval of the racetrack operator or without holding a public meeting with ten days public notice.”
“It is our understanding that Santa Anita management, after consultation with certain other industry stakeholders, believes that for a variety of reasons, the future of California racing is best served by continuing to race,” the CHRB said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called in April for all racing at Santa Anita to be suspended “until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated.”
Later that month, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the formation of a task force to investigate the horse deaths. The group would “thoroughly investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park,” Lacey said in a statement.
Santa Anita temporarily halted racing in March to look into the spate of horse deaths, but while it enacted safety-related changes, it did not discover anything about its racetrack that required major repair. When the 85-year-old facility, an original version of which first opened in 1907, reopened at the end of the month a horse died shortly thereafter, but then almost seven weeks passed without another fatality.
Since the death of an unraced 3-year-old in training May 17, one day before the Preakness Stakes at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course, five more horses have died at Santa Anita. Truffalino’s Hall of Fame trainer, Richard Mandella, expressed uncertainty Sunday over what befell his horse.
“They think it was a heart attack,” Mandella said (via the Daily Racing Form). “I don’t know. I wish I had an answer.”
The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, did not immediately comment on the latest horse deaths and on the CHRB recommendation.
“Either the rules aren’t strong enough or the rules aren’t being followed, but whatever the reason for the deaths of two more horses, Santa Anita needs to listen to the California Horse Racing Board and shut down,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said in a statement Sunday. “It should not re-open until full-leg scan equipment is in place, since most pelvis injuries also show lesions in the legs; the dirt track has been replaced with a safer synthetic surface; and the district attorney’s investigation into trainers and veterinarians is complete.”
Santa Anita is set to host the Breeders, Cup in November, but the troubles at the track, which have resulted in months of national headlines, could cause directors of that event to reconsider the venue. The Breeders’ Cup board is expected to make a decision on possibly moving it during a meeting later this month (per the Louisville Courier Journal).
“I think it’s fair to say our board will have a full report from management on everything we know about the situation in California, as well as injury rates at other racetracks, and we’ll have to evaluate that situation and what our options are,” Breeders’ Cup President Craig Fravel said Sunday (per the Courier Journal).
Calling the situation at Santa Anita “unbelievable,” Mandella told the San Bernardino Sun that he had “40 horses” there and thought the track was “better than it’s ever been.”
“Just can’t get out from under this cloud,” he added.