Santa Anita resists calls to close track despite second horse death in two days, 29th of the season

Ben WeinribYahoo Sports Contributor

Santa Anita Park faced calls to shut down when a horse died at its track on Saturday, but even after another horse died on Sunday, track management is choosing to continue to race.

On Saturday, 4-year-old Formal Dude pulled up early and had to be taken off the track after collapsing in front of the finish line. The horse, who entered as a favorite, had to be euthanized.

The following day, 3-year-old filly Truffalino broke down during the race and died of a heart attack.

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With 29 horses dying at Santa Anita Park since the season started in December, the California Horse Racing Board recommended that the track close for the remainder of its meet, which is scheduled to end June 23. The CHRB does not have the power to immediately stop a tournament but can after 10 days.

“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,” the CHRB said in a statement.

“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.”

Santa Anita had to be shut down in March

This isn’t the first time that Santa Anita has faced scrutiny for the safety of its course. The track faced similar concerns in March when 22 horses died during a two-month span, and the track was shuttered while officials inspected the track.

However, the racetrack was closed for just over three weeks before racing resumed and competing horses had to face some of the most stringent safety and medication rules in horse racing.

Still, that hasn’t stopped more horses from dying. Death is an unfortunate part of racing — even at other notable tracks such as Pimlico Race Course — but this year is an entirely new level. According to NBC News, just 18 total horses died in the previous two years at Santa Anita.

The track did have a six-week stretch without any deaths, but the issue has come roaring back. Some suspect that a surprisingly wet and cold winter could be partly to blame for the dangerous track, yet more answers are needed after the continuous deaths.

“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,” PETA’s senior vice president Kathy Guillermo said. “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.”

Santa Anita is facing more calls to close its track after two horses died over the weekend. (Photo by Mark Ralston/Getty Images)
Santa Anita is facing more calls to close its track after two horses died over the weekend. (Photo by Mark Ralston/Getty Images)

What does this mean for Santa Anita’s future?

With the CHRB threatening to shut down Santa Anita’s track whether management agrees to or not, the end of the current meet is very much in the air. More notably, though, the track is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup on November 1-2, and that could be subject to change.

The Breeders’ Cup is one of the premier events in horse racing, and it can ill afford to be marred by another horse’s death.

In what appears to be exceedingly poor timing for Santa Anita, the Breeders’ Cups board will meet on June 27 to discuss changing the host site, according to a report in the Courier-Journal.

“I think it’s fair to say our board will have a full report from management on everything we know about the situation in California as well as injury rates at other racetracks and we’ll have to evaluate that situation and what our options are,” Breeders' Cup president Craig Fravel said Sunday. “That’s really ultimately a board decision, so I have to defer to that process.”

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