It was a bleak threefold and a familiar outcome for Parque Santa Anita: three horses died in three days last weekend on California's best-known and most scrutinized racetrack.
All three horses were euthanized, two after breaking their ankles in grass races and the third after colliding with another horse while training on the ground, race officials said.
The last wave of deaths on the track started on Friday, when a 6-year-old gelding named Harliss broke an ankle in a lawn race and was euthanized, according to race officials.
Then, on Saturday, a 5-year-old gelding named Incontainable he also broke an ankle in a claim race and was euthanized. The third death came on Sunday, when Tikkun Olam, a 4-year-old gelding who won $ 40,743 in nine races, collided with another horse while training on the ground. The nature of the horse's injuries was not immediately clear.
There have now been five deaths in Santa Anita since the beginning of this year, prompting the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group to invite state officials to suspend racing on the Arcadia track in California.
"Three horses killed in three days require immediate action," PETA said in a statement. "The California Horse Racing Council recently received the authority, in legislation supported by Governor Gavin Newsom, to suspend racing – and now it must do just that."
The protest followed the death of 56 horses in Santa Anita from July 1, 2018 to November 30, 2019, according to a special investigation carried out by a task force created last year by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.
The survey found no evidence of animal cruelty or illegal conduct by track owners, the Canadian-based Stronach Group, which closed Santa Anita in March for several weeks, while track safety and other running practices were assessed. But that did not placate animal welfare activists.
"It makes no sense on the board to allow races – and deaths – to continue until it promotes all of its pending regulations and acts on the recommendations of the Los Angeles County Prosecutor's Office," PETA said. "If it is necessary to close a track to stop the deaths, close the track."
A California Horse Racing Board spokesman declined to comment on the latest deaths on the track. Instead, he provided a list of proposed changes to safety regulations on the types of drugs administered to horses, racing in adverse weather conditions and the transparency of veterinary records.
Some of the recommendations have been adopted, but others still require approval from the board or budget, according to a checklist from the government agency, which now publishes a weekly list of race fatalities in California on its website.
A Newsom spokesman, Jesse Melgar, said in an email on Monday that the governor was concerned about the deaths on the track over the weekend.
“While the California Horse Racing Council and Santa Anita made progress in reducing equine deaths last year and C.H.R.B. made recommendations to further improve the safety of horses, Governor Newsom remains concerned and believes that more needs to be done, ”said Melgar. "Despite the implementation of new safety review standards – which are now proving to be a new national model – many horses are getting hurt or dying as we saw over the weekend."
When asked for comment on Monday, a Santa Anita Park spokesman said management was preparing a statement.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, the runway, 24 kilometers northeast of Los Angeles, was the site of the 1940 Seabiscuit victory in the Santa Anita Handicap. The 2003 film "Seabiscuit" was filmed there.
In 2010, Santa Anita abandoned the use of a synthetic trail made of sand, rubber and silica after a short-lived experiment. In February, management hired a rail safety expert from the University of Kentucky to look for clues about the fatal eruption.
State officials say Santa Anita has installed new digital imaging equipment – a PET scan – to diagnose injuries in horses. The track also delayed the start of its current winter / spring meeting to December 28 to December 26, due to concerns about bad weather.