Racing Continues at Santa Anita Park Amid Mounting Pressure to Suspend Competition After Spate of Horse Deaths

2 min
Racing resumed on Thursday at Santa Anita Park, where 23 horses have died since December. (Ben Bergman/KQED)

Santa Anita Park's biggest race of the season is still on for this Saturday despite calls from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to shut down the race track, where 23 horses have died since December.

Why are horses dying at Santa Anita Park?
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Facing intense public scrutiny, the park, outside Los Angeles, still plans to proceed with its Santa Anita Derby event, an important qualifier for the upcoming Kentucky Derby that includes major cash prizes.

In a letter sent to California Horse Racing Board chairman Chuck Winner on Tuesday, Feinstein, D-CA, said she was "appalled" that so many horses have died in the past four months, and called for a suspension of races until an investigation has taken place.

"I believe that racing at Santa Anita should be suspended until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated," Feinstein wrote. "I also ask for more information about what the California Horse Racing Board is doing to both investigate this matter and address some of the concerns that these incidents have rightly raised.”

The Los Angeles Times editorial board also called on Thursday for the race to be suspended after a 5-year-old gelding collided with another horse and had to be euthanized earlier this week.

A race horse taking a break at Santa Anita Park on Thursday, March 4, 2019. (Ben Bergman)

“It’s crazy,” said Billy Wheeler, an avid horse racing fan who’s been following the sport for 70 years. “I don’t know what the deal is. “I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve seen maybe one or two horses break a leg.”

Although fans are baffled by the deaths, few agree with Feinstein that the the track should be temporarily closed.

“[Feinstein's] worried about horses? C’mon,” scoffed Charlie Thompson, who has been coming to Santa Anita for more than four decades. Horse deaths, he said, are a just part of the sport. “They’re pushing them to go as fast as possible."

Animal rights activists disagree.

The 23 deaths should serve as a wake up call to regulators, said Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“The track needs to close,” she said. “It needs to close until they put in measures that save the horses from broken bones and death.”

The Stronach Group, the company that owns the park, declined to be interviewed.

“The Stronach Group is fully committed to modernizing our sport in a way that prioritizes the welfare and safety of horses, above all,” the company said in a written statement.

Earlier this week, the California Horse Racing Board called a special meeting for April 12 to discuss possible rule changes.

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