fficials at Santa Anita Park racetrack were forced to euthanize another horse this past Saturday, sparking renewed calls for an end to horseracing not only at the Arcadia facility but at tracks around the state.
The death comes as Santa Anita prepares to host the Breeders’ Cup competition, one of the top horseracing events in the country, on Nov. 1-2.
Santa Anita is currently under investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, a probe launched in March after the 21st horse death since December that remains ongoing.
On Saturday, Oct. 19, the 3-year-old gelding Satchel Paige fractured his left ankle during a race and was later euthanized after veterinarians examined the injury. The incident marked the 34th horse death at the racetrack since December. Officials with the track said more work would be done to examine what caused the injury and if it could have been avoided.
“Satchel Paige will undergo a necropsy at the University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine on behalf of the California Horse Racing Board, as is mandatory for all on-track accidents. The accident and the necropsy report will be reviewed to learn what, if anything, could have been done to prevent the accident,” Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinarian for the Stronach Group, owners of the track, said in a prepared statement. “Santa Anita will work closely with the California Horse Racing Board to investigate this accident and will continue to brief our stakeholders and all of our constituents, including the public, as more facts come in.”
Santa Anita is not the only track that has euthanized a large number of injured horses. At least 25 horses have died at Belmont Park in New York this year. And two days before Ky. Colonel died at Santa Anita a horse named Stella d’Oro was euthanized at the Keeneland Fall Meet in Lexington, Kentucky, following what reporters described as a “catastrophic injury.”
Earlier this month People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called for a halt to all horseracing when Ky. Colonel died of a heart attack after trotting on the training track at Santa Anita. The horse died seven months after the LA County DA’s Office launched an investigation into the deaths.
“Horses don’t simply sustain broken bones for no reason, and young horses shouldn’t be dying of heart attacks,” PETA posted on its website.
“These animals may have had undisclosed injuries or other health conditions that were masked by medications commonly administered to keep lame and unfit horses training and competing,” the statement reads.
Under state law, the California Horse Racing Board can only suspend horseracing at a track after a 10-day process and a public meeting, even when there are significant safety issues.
“All racing states should suspend racing until real answers are supplied about these deaths and the carnage is ended. But even as authorities and the racing world drag their feet, PETA will continue pushing forward to help save exploited horses’ lives,” according to the statement.
Santa Anita closed briefly after the 21st horse died in March. After the track reopened, officials put new safety protocols in place to protect the horses, including banning race-day medication, increasing transparency of veterinary records, further regulating approval for workouts, and increasing reviews of the track’s surface. Also after the death of the 21st horse, LA County DA Jackie Lacey opened an investigation into the deaths.
“The Stronach Group and Santa Anita safety measures put horse and rider safety above all else,” said Benson in a prepared statement. “Santa Anita and The Stronach Group remain committed to leading transformative change in this traditional sport.”
In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he supports Senate Bill 469, authored Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), which would make it easier to suspend horse racing at a given venue. In June, US Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she also supports the bill.
At that time, some experts said they believed the injuries were caused by an extra hard track created by track officials in response to the above average rainfall the area experienced in the first three months of the year.
However, there has been no rainfall in the last six months.
A horse’s leg contains 80 of the 205 bones in the animal’s body, according to the National Livestock Journal. Horses have no muscles below their knees, an intricate system of tendons and ligaments powered by tremendous muscles high in the body, allowing the animals to sprint at high speeds.
Because their bones are so light, horse bones shatter instead of fracture like those of humans, which makes the leg almost impossible to repair.
Because equine circulation is dependent on the horse’s hooves, keeping a horse still for a long time puts the animal’s life at risk and forces owners to have hundreds of injured horses euthanized every year.