Sunday is the last day of racing for what has been a tragic season at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. It's a day that can't come soon enough for animal rights activists and top lawmakers, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who have called for the track to be shut down because 29 horses have died there since December.
At the End of Tragic Racing Season, Santa Anita Workers Warn They Will Be Homeless If Track Closes
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But the thousands of workers who care for the track, and who have rarely spoken out before, want Santa Anita to stay open, They held a lively rally Thursday to try to protect their jobs.
"The compassion that we have for the horses should also transfer to the individuals who take care of the horses and whose livelihood is at stake if this industry is terminated," said Oscar de la Torre, a spokesman for the workers.
There are more than 3,000 backstretch workers at Santa Anita, those who are tasked with everything from grooming horses to picking up after them. Most workers are originally from Central America and 80% live at the track, according to de la Torre. He said if Santa Anita were to be closed, most of the workers would be homeless.
"Right now in the city of Los Angeles we have 59,000 people and counting who are homeless on our streets," he said. "We don’t want to contribute to that social problem."
It remains a mystery why there have been so many horse deaths at Santa Anita this season. After the most recent death last Sunday, the California Horse Racing Board called on racing to be suspended for the rest of the season. But Santa Anita’s owners, The Stronach Group, ignored the request.
A bill supported by Newsom giving the board more power to shut down racing is working its way through the California Legislature.
De la Torre said workers support stricter safety regulations, but they see no need to suspend operations.
"We want to modernize the horse racing industry, he said. "We all support that. Because we understand that by supporting and protecting those measures that will protect our horses, we will protect our jobs and our livelihoods."
The workers, many of whom have been at Santa Anita for decades, stress it’s not just their jobs they care about.
"We do not like to lose one single animal," said Leandro Mora, who has worked at Santa Anita since the '70s, when he said he fell in love with horses. "We love them all. Those are our kids."
PETA issued a statement before the rally: "The backstretch workers have very little chance of continuing employment if horses keep dying."