Horseracing Integrity Act and Race Horse Deaths
Compiled by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.
There was bad news and good news for Thoroughbred race horses in December 2019.
First, the bad news. On Saturday December 14, 2019 in the first race at California’s Los Alamitos Race Course, two horses died. Mighty Elijah, a 4-year-old gelding, injured his left front leg in the stretch. He was vanned off the track and euthanized when his injury could not be repaired. The horse was trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who is banned from running his horses at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gates Fields after a string of fatalities. Mighty Elijah was the eighth horse to die in Hollendorfer’s care in the last 13 months. Four of his horses died at Santa Anita, two at Golden Gate, one at Del Mar, and this one at Los Alamitos. The Stronach Group owns both Santa Anita Park and Golden Gates Fields.
Into A Hot Spot, a Reed Saldana-trained 4-year-old, collapsed while being unsaddled after the race and died on the track. Stewards said the horse suffered internal injuries, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Cherwa, of the Los Angeles Times, wrote that Hollendorfer planned to race his horses at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas at the beginning of this year.
Then on December 26 – two days before opening day of its 83rd winter meet – another racehorse died at Santa Anita. Truest Reward, a 3-year-old gelding, broke his left front leg on the training track, during a period when the track was closed to workouts but open for jogging and galloping, according to Patch.com.
The death came just a week after the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office released its 17-page report by the special task force that investigated 30 racehorse deaths at Santa Anita during 2019’s winter/spring meet. The report did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct.” However, the report did offer 27 recommendations for safety improvements, most of which were also recommended by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). The CHRB is planning to issue a report, probably some time in January, that will include the results of necropsies on the horses, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In 2019, 37 horses died either racing or training at Santa Anita; nine died as a result of racing or training at Del Mar, and two died at Los Alamitos. Sunday December 15 was the final day of Los Alamitos’ seven-day winter meet.
To put things in a longer-term perspective, in March 2012, the New York Times analyzed three years of race reports from tracks around the country to determine the frequency of breakdowns or signs of injury at 62 tracks where Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses race. To assess how often horses break down or get injured, The Times purchased official data covering more than 150,000 race results from 2009 through 2011.
In incidents per 1,000 starts, Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park’s rate was a low 3.2, below the average of 5.2 of all tracks.
The Times analysis found that at least 635 horses died in California while training or racing, more than any other state. Of its tracks, Los Alamitos had the nation’s fifth-highest rate.
The Times also found that “five of the seven tracks with the nation’s highest incident rates are in New Mexico. Four tracks are unaccredited, and enforcement of drug violations is relatively lenient. Ruidoso Downs had the nation’s highest overall rate from 2009 to 2011 (13.9). … Twice in the three-year period analyzed, a track had six incidents in a single day: at Sunland Park, NM. Quarter Horses, which excel at short sprints, are much more likely to break down during a race. The incident rate among these horses was highest at Sunland Park — about 17.2 per 1,000.”
Now for the good news. Two days after the latest race horse deaths in California, the Horseracing Integrity Act picked up its 220th sponsor in the House of Representatives – more than half the representatives.
The Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 1754, led by U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko (D-NY), and Andy Barr (R-KY) in the House and S. 1820, led by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Martha McSally (R-AZ) in the Senate, now has 17 cosponsors. The bill would create a private, independent national horse racing anti-doping authority responsible for developing and administering a strict anti-doping and medication control program. The horse racing industry is currently regulated by 38 different racing jurisdictions.
In an article by Natalie Voss in the Paulick Report, Dr. Ryan Carpenter, a long time Southern California racetrack surgeon, spoke about the slate of reforms initiated by the Stronach Group. The track announced that, among other changes, it would push back administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories from 24 hours pre-race to 48 hours before a race or a workout, and intra-articular corticosteroids from seven days to 14 days pre-race.
Carpenter said he was skeptical about the changes at first. He had been a proponent of giving horses bute or banamine before work “because I felt these horses are athletes, they train very consistently, they have muscle soreness. This helps them stay in training.” Carpenter thought he’d see more sore horses after their work, but that hasn’t been the case. “There’s been no difference. Those horses do just fine,” he said. Now Carpenter is the first one to tell other industry insiders: those changes are not only workable, they are a good thing.
The Paulick Report went on to report: “In a recent meeting of the American Association of Equine Practitioners racing committee, one examining veterinarian in California noted a change in the mindset of trainers, grooms and others on the backstretch – they want him to be as cautious as necessary when deciding whether their horse should run that day. Carpenter said he has noticed the same thing. Nobody wants to lose a horse and then have the tragedy compounded by becoming the next headline.”
Read the House version of the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1754 Read the Senate bill at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/1820
Cherwa, John. 2019. “Two Horses Die in Same Race at Los Alamitos.” Los Angeles Times. Dec. 14. https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-12-14/two-horses-die-in-same-race-at-los-alamitos
Cherwa, John. 2019. “Investigations into horse deaths at Santa Anita finds no unlawful conduct.” Los Angeles Times. Dec. 19. https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-12-19/horse-racing-investigation
Animal Wellness Action, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization with a mission of helping animals by promoting legal standards forbidding cruelty.
Ehrhorn, Emily, Media Relations, Humane Society of the United States
Voss, Natalie. 2019. “California Racetrack Veterinarian To Colleagues: Don’t Fear Medication Reform.” Paulick Report. Dec. 16. https://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/california-racetrack-veterinarian-to-colleagues-dont-fear-medication-reform/
Palmer, Griffin and Kevin Quealy. 2012. “For Horse and jockey, Risks Vary by State.” The New York Times. Mar. 24. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/03/24/us/for-horse-and-jockey-risks-vary.html
City News Service. 2019. “Another Horse Dies at Santa Anita Ahead Of Opening Day.” Patch Media. Dec. 29. https://patch.com/california/arcadia/another-horse-dies-santa-anita-ahead-opening-day
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