Santa Anita track to stay open despite more deaths

Owners of the Santa Anita racetrack have rejected calls to suspend racing after two more horse fatalities at the course (AFP Photo/Mark RALSTON) (AFP)

Los Angeles (AFP) - The owners of Santa Anita racetrack rejected calls to suspend horse racing at the course on Monday as the equine death toll at the facility rose to 29 after two more fatalities.

A statement from the Stronach Group said the track would remain open for the final seven days of the season, dismissing a call from the California Horse Racing Board to shutter the course after the latest deaths.

On Saturday, gelding Formal Dude was euthanised after suffering a serious injury while on Sunday three-year-old Truffalino collapsed after suffering an apparent heart attack as a heatwave baked the course.

The Stronach statement said the track would remain open as the racing industry continued to implement new safety measures which they claimed had been effective since their introduction earlier this year.

"We are collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport–grooms, hot walkers, jockeys, exercise riders, starters, trainers, owners, track managers and every horse wearing a bridle and a saddle–to reform and improve racing every day," the Stronach statement said.

"After extensive consultation among all partners, Santa Anita Park will stay open through the end of its meet to see these reforms through."

The statement, which was released with the support of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and California Thoroughbred Trainers associations, said safety reforms had led to a 50% drop in racing injuries and an 84% dip in training injuries since their introduction.

"To be clear, there are no acceptable losses, and every day we work toward ending all serious injuries," the statement said.

"But the reality is that our improvements and changes have been effective."

Animal rights groups have led calls for Santa Anita's closure, with some arguing that the unusually high death toll demanded an outright ban of horse racing.

"Santa Anita averages 50 dead horses a year. It is business as usual," said Heather Wilson, an advocate for Horseracing Wrongs, a New York- based nonprofit that is working to eradicate horse racing in the US.

"The general public must understand that horse racing kills horses at every single track. This is not isolated to Santa Anita."

The Los Angeles Times last month added its voice for Santa Anita to be closed for the remainder of the racing season.

"At the end of the day, there may be no good explanation for the surge in deaths at Santa Anita," the paper wrote in an editorial.

"It may simply be a stomach-churning cost of doing business. The question that looms for all racetrack and horse owners is, how much death is the public willing to tolerate as 'normal'?"

The unusually high number of fatalities at Santa Anita, which is due to host the Breeders' Cup in November, has baffled investigators.

Track safety experts who studied the dirt surface in March were unable to pinpoint a cause, although some have blamed it on the record rainfall that doused California in recent months.