LOS ANGELES (NBC News) — Santa Anita Park will continue with its race schedule, rejecting a request from state regulators to close even as the deaths of three more horses were reported in the last five days.
The Daily Racing Form, a leading thoroughbred racing industry journal, and The Associated Press reported Sunday that a horse sustained a fractured pelvis during a race on Saturday and was later euthanized. Then, on Sunday, another collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack during a turf race.
A third horse was put to death on Wednesday after it suffered a broken shoulder during a routine gallop.
Twenty-nine horses have died or have been put to death since Christmas after having suffered injuries at the park, in the suburb of Arcadia east of Los Angeles. An explanation for the string of deaths and euthanizations still hasn’t been found.
After the first death of the weekend on Saturday, the California Horse Racing Board, or CHRB, said in a statement that it “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.”
But “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,” the board said.
The CHRB doesn’t have authority to suspend racing at a California track unilaterally without the track’s approval or after a public meeting. Public meetings require 10 days’ notice under state law; Santa Anita’s season ends on June 23.
In a statement Sunday night, the Stronach Group, the owner of Santa Anita Park, confirmed that the track would remain open “to see these reforms through,” a reference to a series of changes the track has made since December, including new rules banning the administration of most drugs and the use of whips during races except for safety reasons.
“We have great respect for Governor [Gavin] Newsom and the CHRB, and we look forward to working closely with them as we continue to discuss these issues,” it said.
“Since wide-sweeping reforms have been instituted at Santa Anita, catastrophic injuries have dropped considerably compared to earlier this meet, decreasing by 50 percent in racing and by more than 84 percent in training,” Stronach said.
“To be clear, there are no acceptable losses, and every day we work toward ending all serious injuries. But the reality is that our improvements and changes have been effective,” it said.
The Associated Press quoted Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as saying on Sunday that “either the rules aren’t strong enough or the rules aren’t being followed.”
“Santa Anita needs to listen to the California Horse Racing Board and shut down,” she said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has also called for the track to be closed, telling the CHRB in a letter in April: “The death of a single horse is a tragedy.”