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Santa Anita Sees 28th, 29th Horse Deaths; Track Denies Request to Halt Racing

ARCADIA (CNS) - Hours after officials at Santa Anita Park denied a
request by the California Horse Racing Board to suspend racing in the wake of
the 28th horse death at the track this season, a 3-year-old filly reportedly
collapsed and died Sunday during a race conducted in near-triple digit
   The death of Truffalino was reported Sunday by the Daily Racing Form,
which said the horse pulled up inside the eighth pole and collapsed after
jockey Joe Talamo dismounted.
   ``They think it was a heart attack,'' Mandella said, according to the
Daily Racing Form. ``I don't know. I wish I had an answer.''
   Sunday's heat in Arcadia reached a high of 97 degrees.
   Santa Anita officials did not immediately respond to a request for
confirmation of the death, but track officials said earlier in the day they
expected to release a statement on Saturday's death, in which Formal Dude -- a
4-year-old gelding -- was euthanized after suffering an injury during that
day's 10th race, Mike Marten, spokesman for the CHRB, told City News Service.
   ``Under current law, The California Horse Racing Board does not have
the authority to suspend a race meet or remove race dates from a current race
meet without the approval of the race track operator or without holding a
public meeting with ten days public notice,'' the CHRB said in a statement.
   ``The Chairman, Vice Chairman and the Executive Director recommended
to Santa Anita management that they suspend racing for the seven remaining race
days but that they allow horses to continue to train during that period. This
would provide the industry more time to fully implement announced safety
initiatives and perhaps additional ones.
   ``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's next scheduled meeting is June 20 at the Alameda County
Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.
   The number of deaths at the track have prompted calls from animal-
advocacy groups and some politicians for a halt in racing at Santa Anita, or
even to ban the sport in California altogether.
   ``Santa Anita averages 50 dead horses a year. It is business as
usual,'' Heather Wilson, an organizer with Horseracing Wrongs -- a New York-
based nonprofit that is working to eradicate horse racing in the U.S. -- told
City News Service on Sunday. ``The general public must understand that horse
racing kills horses at every single track. This is not isolated to Santa Anita.
   ``We are asking that all horse racing be suspended in California,''
Wilson said. ``We demand that a bill be introduced in the state Legislature
that will abolish horse racing. Senator Feinstein has asked repeatedly for
Santa Anita to be shut down, and The Stronach Group defy her every time. No
more reform, no more investigations, no more subpoenas. This `sport' needs to
   The Stronach Group is the company that owns Santa Anita Park.
   ``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 Sunday. ``It should not reopen 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.''
   The Stronach Group announced Sunday in a joint statement with the
Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers
group, that Santa Anita will finish the racing season as scheduled. The news
release calls attention to reforms currently in operation throughout Santa
   ``We are collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport --
grooms, hot walkers, jockeys, exercise riders, starters, trainers, owners,
track managers and every horse wearing a bridle and a saddle -- to reform and
improve racing every day,'' the statement said. ``After extensive consultation
among all partners, Santa Anita Park will stay open through the end of its meet
to see these reforms through.''
   The efforts already were paying dividends, according to the statement.
   ``Since wide-sweeping reforms have been instituted at Santa Anita,
catastrophic injuries have dropped considerably compared to earlier this meet,
decreasing by 50 percent in racing and by more than 84 percent in training,''
it said. ``To be clear, there are no acceptable losses, and every day we work
toward ending all serious injuries. But the reality is that our improvements
and changes have been effective.''
   In April, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced
she had created a task force to investigate the deaths of the horses at the
   In a letter to the horse racing board on April 2, California Sen.
Dianne Feinstein called for racing to be suspended at Santa Anita ``until the
cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated,'' a call she
repeated last month as the deaths continued.
   Racing was halted at the track for most of March while examinations
were conducted on and around the track.
   Racing resumed April 4 after the board approved a series of measures,
including restrictions on certain medications, requiring trainers to get
permission in advance before putting a horse through a workout and investing in
diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
   No further deaths occurred until May 17, when an unraced 3-year-old
gelding named Commander Coil suffered a fatal shoulder injury while galloping
during training.
   ``Equine shoulder injuries are rare, especially for a horse that is
galloping as opposed to breezing or racing,'' said a statement from TSG. ``A
comprehensive evaluation will be completed to understand what might have caused
this uncommon injury.''
   Two days later, Spectacular Music, a 3-year-old gelding, sustained a
pelvic injury while running his first career race and was put down.
   ``The Stronach Group remains committed to operating Santa Anita Park
with stringent protocols that prioritize the health and safety of horses and
riders first and foremost,'' TSG said in a statement that day.
   On May 26, a 9-year-old gelding named Kochees was euthanized after
suffering a leg injury during a race the previous day.
   On June 5, River Derby, an unraced 2-year-old colt, received a
shoulder injury during a gallop at Santa Anita and later was euthanized.
   Track spokesman Mike Willman said the horse initially was examined at
Santa Anita but the shoulder injury was not diagnosed until it was taken to
Chino Valley Equine Hospital, where it was put down.
   The horse's trainer, Ruben Gomez, said in a news report the fractured
shoulder ``can be a common injury in babies. He just came up from Florida.''

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