Two horses die after colliding in freak training accident day after Del Mar opens for season

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor
Two horses died after a collision during the second day of racing at Del Mar on Thursday (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Two horses died after a collision during the second day of racing at Del Mar on Thursday (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Two horses collided and died in a freak accident during early morning training on the second day of the horse racing season at the Del Mar Racetrack in California.

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The incident comes on the heels of 30 horse fatalities at Santa Anita during its season, which sparked new rules at the race track and controversy around horse racing.

Horses collide, die at Del Mar

The horses collided around 6:45 a.m. during training runs and died immediately upon impact, per NBC San Diego, and were not euthanized. The response from emergency personnel on site was immediate, per DMTC.

Charge A Bunch threw his jockey, Geovanni Franco, and turned sharply around the six-furlong pole, according to USA Today. The horse collided with accomplished trainer Bob Baffert’s horse, Carson Valley, who was doing a four-furlong workout, per USA Today. Assael Espinoza was thrown from the horse and taken to the hospital. His agent said on Twitter he has a bruised lower back.

Trainers express shock, grieve

Baffert, who trained 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, released the following statement via DMTC:

"This was a very unfortunate accident & is a shock to everyone in the barn. We work every day to take the best care of our horses but sometimes freak accidents occur that are beyond anyone's control. This is one of those times & we're deeply saddened for all involved."

Trainer Carla Gaines, whose horse Charge A Bunch, made the sudden turn also released a statement on Twitter. She said she had never seen anything like it in more than 30 years of training.

Horse racing death renews controversy

There were 30 horse fatalities during racing and training at Santa Anita this season and the track banned Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The owner of the track alleged he did not observe the new rules put into place after the 22nd horse death of the season.

It sparked conversation over horse racing’s place in society, an issue that will be renewed in the aftermath of the deaths at Del Mar. PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo issued the organization’s statement that afternoon and called for an investigation by the California Horse Racing Board.

"Saying that deaths are inevitable in racing is like saying a swim team can't compete without drowning. If racing can't be done without horses dying, it shouldn't be done at all.”

Del Mar was one of the safest race tracks in 2018 with only three fatalities during racing in 3,812 starts, according to the Equine Injury Database, and four others during training. It averaged .79 fatalities per 1,000 starts, far less than Santa Anita’s 2.04 per 1,000 in the same year (18 over 8,833 starts).

The average fatality rate for all participating race tracks is 1.68.

The number fluctuates, though, and Del Mar had a rate of 3.01 in 2016, it’s highest since reporting started for the 2009 season. It has four seasons of 10 with fatality averages more than 2.00. Santa Anita has had consistently high rates in the same span.

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