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Santa Anita bans Hall of Fame trainer after racetrack's horse death toll hits 30

Jack Baer
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The continuously increasing death toll at the Santa Anita racetrack has reached 30 this year, and now bans are starting to be handed out to trainers who aren’t following the safety measures recently put in place.

Even if they’re in the Racing Hall of Fame.

Jerry Hollendorfer banned from Santa Anita

According to the Los Angeles Times, 4-year-old gelding American Currency suffered a life-ending leg injury on the Santa Anita training track on Saturday, the 30th horse to die since the season began on Dec. 26.

The death seems to have caused the horse’s trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, to reportedly be ordered out of Santa Anita and its sister track, the Golden Gate Fields.

A statement released by the Stronach Group, which owns the tracks, indicated the Hollendorfer was not observing the tracks’ new rules put in place to protect horses after the unusual spike in deaths earlier this year:

“Individuals who do not embrace the new rules and safety measures that put horse and rider safety above all else will have no place at any Stronach Group racetrack,” the company that owns Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, in Albany, Calif., said in a statement.

“We regret that Mr. Hollendorfer’s record in recent months at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields has become increasingly challenging and does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand. Effective immediately, Mr. Hollendorfer is no longer welcome to stable, race or train his horses at any of our facilities.”

American Currency was the fourth horse of Hollendorfer’s to die at Santa Anita this year. Hollendorfer was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2011 and has been a member of the Southern California racing scene since the 1980s.

Hollendorfer defends record, calls ban premature

As you could imagine, Hollendorfer significantly disagrees with his ban from one of the biggest racetracks in the world.

Speaking with the Daily Racing Form, Hollendorfer said he was ordered by track management to vacate all 46 of his stalls on the Santa Anita backstretch within 72 hours. He was still figuring out how to do so at the time, but pointed to his long record of training horses to dispute the ban:

“I’m trying to work out a plan now,” Hollendorfer said in a telephone interview. “The only thing I have to say is every time anyone loses a horse, the whole backstretch loses. That’s the way everyone feels.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, and I’ve started more than 33,500 horses that have been under my care in my career. I haven’t, in my opinion, had that many problems.

“I’ve never been suspended or anything like that. I have a lot of employees that I want to take care of and who have families that depend me.

“I’m training over 100 horses right now. Santa Anita didn’t want me stay on the grounds. My opinion was that was a premature thing to do. I thought it was extreme. Now I have to step away for a while.”

In addition to the ban, all of Hollendorfer’s horses entered in races at Santa Anita on Saturday and Sunday were reportedly scratched by a panel of stewards and veterinarians.

Among the horses banned was Sneaking Out, a 4-5 favorite in the $200,000 Melair Stakes on Sunday.

SALONA BEACH, CALIFORNIA- AUGUST 11: Instagrand, with Drayden Van Dyke up, wins the G2 Best Pal Stakes for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and owner OXO Equine, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, CA on August 11, 2018 in Salona Beach, California (Photo by Horsephotos/Getty Images)
Jerry Hollendorfer (L) is a fixture of Southern California horse racing. (Getty Images)

Earlier in the year, the Santa Anita authorities imposed a litany of safety measures to protect horses when the spike in deaths first started drawing notice.

Among the new rules were a ban on race day medications, veterinary record transparency, workout approvals, a commitment to purchase state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and a continuous review of the track’s dirt and turf surfaces. A ban on jockeys cropping their horses was also passed, but hasn’t been enacted yet.

Those measures appeared to do some good, as the track went six weeks without a death between March 31 and May 17. Unfortunately, six more horses have died since that streak.

The Santa Anita controversy continues

Even with Hollendorfer out and the safety measures enforced, very few are going to bet that the deaths at Santa Anita will subside anytime soon. In reality, that’s probably never going to happen, because semi-frequent horse deaths have always been a part of horse racing.

Just look at the death tallies at Santa Anita compiled by the California Horse Racing Board through the years, via KTLA:

  • 2018: 37 (20 racing, 17 training)

  • 2017: 54 (26 racing, 28 training)

  • 2016: 57 (26 racing, 31 training)

  • 2015: 39 (18 racing, 21 training)

  • 2014: 45 (25 racing, 20 training)

  • 2013: 36 (15 racing, 21 training)

  • 2012: 59 (17 racing, 42 training)

  • 2011: 30 (18 racing, 12 training)

  • 2010: 34 (14 racing, 20 training)

  • 2009: 33 (11 racing, 22 training)

  • 2008: 38 (20 racing, 18 training)

Santa Anita’s awful, awful year hasn’t yet exceeded any of its yearly death totals in the last decade. The track is certainly on pace to see a high death toll this year, but we’re not seeing something surreal here. Just worse than usual.

That’s why animal rights activists don’t just want to see Santa Anita close its doors. That’s why the sports’ gamblers continue making bets despite not knowing if they’re about to see a horse suffer a fatal injury in front of them.

This is simply what the sport of horse racing is, and people are beginning to take notice.

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