Horse News

Racing experts discuss the future of the sport after rash of horse deaths at Santa Anita

By / LA Times

“I believe today’s horse is more precocious, more brilliant at 2-years-old and 3 than they used to be, but they’re also more fragile…”

Horses work out on the main track at Santa Anita on March 13. The facility has been closed for racing since March 5 following a dramatic increase in the number of horse fatalities. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Anita is inching toward its projected March 29 opening after having closed for live racing on March 5 following a dramatic increase in the number of horse fatalities. Since Dec. 26, 22 horses have died either in racing or training. What happened at Santa Anita has been a mystery that remains unsolved. When the track reopens, the stakes are very high and all eyes will be on horse safety.

The Los Angeles Times gathered a roundtable of three well-known experts with more than a century of knowledge working in the horse racing industry to try and dig down into what went wrong at Santa Anita and where things go from here.

On the panel are Alan Balch, a former Santa Anita executive who has also worked with other horse breeds, and is executive director of California Thoroughbred Trainers; Joe Harper, president and chief executive officer at Del Mar, who has been running the track since 1978; and Ryan Carpenter, one of the top equine surgeons in the country and who works on the backstretch of Santa Anita.

Answers were edited for clarity and brevity.

Is this the biggest crisis in California racing history?

Harper: I would say yes. I know Del Mar has ended up on the nightly news a couple of times with a similar problem. But this one seemed to get a lot of attention. Maybe the situations were a little different but I do think this is at the top of the list.

Balch: I have to agree. The things that I can remember like this were when Santa Anita was shut down by the labor unions. We have had some integrity things from time to time, like when we wouldn’t let the favorite for the Santa Anita Derby run because of cloudy ownership. But this, because it involves the horses, and people are questioning us about our care of the horses makes it far and away the most serious thing I can remember.

Are horses any different than those of the past that might contribute to more breakdowns?

Balch: I believe today’s horse is more precocious, more brilliant at 2-years-old and 3 than they used to be, but they’re also more fragile. Even saying that, it can’t explain the spike we’ve had here in injuries the last couple months.

The media has in general put a lot of emphasis on the 3-year-olds. Some horsemen have too. … But, Santa Anita used to have a whole series of races for 4-year-olds the following year. So, the auction market then was much more based on horses that would stay sound and race into their maturity. Now there is a collision of market economics, the breeders’ market and the sales market. What people want is a horse that’s going to be brilliant at 2, and win the Triple Crown.

Carpenter: The horses that I’ve seen in the last decade have been very consistent. We’re very much looking for a horse that performs very well in a 2-year-old in training environment. So early quick speed, those fractions of a second going a couple furlongs, could be the difference in a sellable horse or not. There are some people who think that maybe we need to get away from that pushing to shave off fractions of a second…(CONTINUED)

https://www.latimes.com/sports/more/la-sp-santa-anita-what-happened-20190320-story.html

8 replies »

  1. STOP HORSE RACING!! It is a DIRTY SPORT as most are. There is money involved, cruelty, breeding of these horses and running them at such a young and underdeveloped age. Rotten, Rotten. Go to a casino!!!! Nothing that is living and feeling pain can be had there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “But, Santa Anita used to have a whole series of races for 4-year-olds the following year. The auction market then was much more based on horses that would stay sound and race into their maturity. Now there is a collision of market economics, the breeders’ market and the sales market. What people want is a horse that’s going to be brilliant at 2, and win the Triple Crown.” MARKET ECONOMICS!
    That says it all. NO comment regarding the fragility of pushing 18 month old colts/fillies into training! No concern from the veterinarian they interviewed. Just: Lasix is safe!
    How many race horses (which would be geldings, of course) race into their 8-9 years – like John Henry? Dont hear of that, do we?

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  3. Just received an email from the Buffalo Field Campaign – 150 buffalo sent to slaughter by the organization that “manages” them! This comment was made at the bottom of the email. Applies to ALL wildlife & their habitat!
    The attitude shown towards our wildlife is sadly not much different than that shown to domestic animals – if they dont turn a PROFIT – not worth being concerned with their welfare.

    “It is increasingly obvious that the current system of governance that we live under has always fostered the destruction of wildlife and the habitat we all depend on for survival. When it is completely legal to annihilate native species in the name of “management”, “agriculture”, “development,” and “conservation,” then the laws and bureaucracies that allow for the destruction must be dismantled and replaced with representatives that will enforce regulations aimed at protecting living communities. As advocates for a living planet, we must organize and resist by working together towards shifting the power dynamics away from protecting profit and private interests and towards protecting the last living remnants of natural communities.”

    ~ Prairie Protection Colorado, a wonderful organization working to protect prairie communities along Colorado’s Front Range. Learn more about their important work at http://www.prairieprotectioncolorado.org.

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  4. For 25 years I’ve discussed the changes in body development on all breeds. Many unlike wild horses were manipulated to have finer leg bones smaller hooves and more machine smooth movement allowing premium usage until age 6 or so. Previously horses were bred as all around, good sized hoof, strong leg ones and hardy builds meaning they worked until they were into the it teens and beyond healthier, less injuries, and better prodigy. The reduction of sizes and the extra pressure to excel combined with more intensive training and coverup drugs changed racing permanently. Many other arenas had the same issues 4 the various breeds. That’s where slaughter said they would haul off the larger horses and cunningly recieved the breeders by encouraging breeding of easily injured horses which they would also often wish away to their painful fate. The old ways were better, yet we condoned the new ways. Change has to occur in breeding to make horses which are healthier, safer and live well for decades. Now I’m not knocking breeders I’m saying that’s where the maximum changes occur. The tracks just got conned by slaughters encouragement. Plain and simple.

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  5. Off topic but is about wild ones. Anyone know any details on how these wild horses were being shipped to slaughter? Its lacking details and we all know they are not to ship so can anyone dig into this and find out how this occurred?

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    • Colts’… The ‘horse slaughter for profit’ is a mega-vulture enterprise that is thriving thanks to all the layers of corruption going on in the DOI, the BLM, and the racing industry. The kill-buyers are always right there, ready to swoop down on their prey, and often these creeps are also the owners of the slaughter “feed” lots, like the despicable Dennis Chavez in Los Lunas, NM.
      There is no lower scum on this Earth than these reptiles, except for the murderers at slaughter plants…….

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    • Wild horses with paperwork (BLM ownership papers) can and are sold for slaughter all the time through normal loose horse auctions. Once you have ownership papers they are no different then any other horse registered or not.

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