Enough. Last week marked the 26th death of a horse as a result of racing or training at Santa Anita Park since the winter racing season started in late December. That’s an extraordinary cluster of deaths in a relatively short period of time, and the park still has no good explanation for why it happened. It’s time for Santa Anita to end its season and stop racing until it has one.
To their credit, the owners of Santa Anita Park have put in place groundbreaking reforms. They have cut in half the allowable dose of the diuretic Lasix, which nearly every horse in this country races on, and plan to phase out its use over time. They have restricted the use of pain medications, which can mask an injury. They have increased the time that a horse must be on site before a race. The park has even sought to forbid jockeys from using their crops to whip horses into running faster, although the California Horse Racing Board must sign off on that. And they did all that in the face of opposition from some trainers and owners.
The park took these steps amid a sickening string of 23 horse deaths in the first few months of its winter season. It then went through more than six weeks of racing and training without a horse fatality, only to see three more deaths in nine days. None of the three allowed for easy explanation — much like the rest of the injuries that led to deaths.
With inquiries pending, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has called for a moratorium on racing at Santa Anita. Two animal welfare groups that have been working on reforms with the park and with the racing board — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Social Compassion in Legislation — want to go further, calling for a moratorium on racing at all tracks in California. In fact, PETA has called for a U.S. ban on racing until all tracks can implement reforms.
Without a doubt, the spotlight on Santa Anita should be widened to all the racetracks in the U.S., where deaths are lamented but tolerated. Horse racing is a risky sport for horses and jockeys. Last year there were 493 thoroughbred fatalities from racing, according to the Jockey Club. That doesn’t even count deaths as a result of training.
This is a sport that expects horses to die even as it vows to do everything it can to prevent deaths.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES