By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Illegal medications did not play a part in the deaths of 23 racehorses at Santa Anita Park but 39% of the fatalities were on track surfaces affected by wet weather, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) said in a report on Tuesday.
The agency looked at the fatalities that occurred between Dec. 30 2018 and March 31 2019, which grabbed headlines and raised concern about the safety of horses competing at the famed Southern California track and the ethics of the sport.
The investigation, which was conducted by veterinarians, scientists and CHRB staff, found no evidence of any "animal welfare violations".
That echoes the findings of a report by the Los Angeles County District Attorney last year, which found "no criminal animal cruelty" took place at Santa Anita.
The CHRB will, however, file with the stewards at Santa Anita seven complaints alleging the horses' handlers failed to turn in daily reports and three complaints alleging that some horses trained at Santa Anita without a proper license.
The stewards will conduct hearings and issue any rulings they deem appropriate.
The CHRB report recommended establishing strict statewide criteria for canceling racing based on weather and surface conditions and a requirement that trainers and attending veterinarians receive continuing education.
The report also called for the industry to engage in research to better understand proximal sesamoid bone fractures, a leading cause in the breakdowns of the horses at Santa Anita that are related to racing and training intensity.
The CHRB report comes the day after U.S. prosecutors criminally charged 27 trainers, veterinarians, drug distributors and others in a wide-ranging scheme to drug horses and cheat bettors.
In light of the federal charges the CHRB plans to retroactively test post-race urine samples of some of the horses tied to the scandal, CHRB spokesman Mike Marten told reporters on a conference call.
"The board has clear authority to take action against a licensee who engages in any conduct detrimental to racing," he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the owner of Maximum Security, the colt that won last month's $20 million Saudi Cup, the world's richest horse race, fired trainer Jason Servis after he was indicted in the doping scheme.
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Ken Ferris)