A 24th Horse Dies At Santa Anita, And National Media Takes Notice

by | 05.18.2019 | 2:14pm
Thoroughbreds training at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.

After six weeks without an equine fatality, Santa Anita saw its 24th since the start of its winter meet on Friday morning. Commander Coil, who was out for a routine gallop, broke his shoulder and had to be euthanized. According to the Los Angeles Times, which was one of a number of national and local outlets reporting on the incident, some 7,000 timed workouts and an estimated 80,000 non-timed gallops have taken place without incident during the previous six weeks.

The Stronach Group provided a statement to media after the incident, saying, “Equine shoulder injuries are rare, especially for a horse that is galloping as opposed to breezing or racing. A comprehensive evaluation will be completed to understand what might have caused this uncommon injury.”

“The Stronach Group remains committed to operating Santa Anita Park with stringent protocols that prioritize the health and safety of horses and riders first and foremost.”

The incident made news on the same day that a filly collapsed and died following a track record-shattering running of the Grade 3 Miss Preakness at Pimlico. Congrats Gal pulled up soon past the wire and rider Trevor McCarthy dismounted before the filly went down.

Necropsies will be conducted on both horses.

The public scrutiny surrounding the first 23 equine fatalities prompted an announcement of unprecedented changes by The Stronach Group, including restrictions on whip use, a phase-out of race-day furosemide, tighter restrictions on therapeutic drug use, and a greater investment in equine safety and medical equipment. Some of those proposed changes have been met with industry pushback.

Despite the six-week period of relative calm at Santa Anita, national media interest in the two deaths was significant. The breakdown of Commander Coil was reported by CNN, ESPN and NBC News, among others.

The death of Congrats Gal was also mentioned in coverage by Britain's The Daily Mail, The New York Times, FOX News, and the Baltimore Sun.

Also on Friday, National Geographic published a story declaring the total number of Thoroughbreds who died at the races in 2018 came to 493, noting that, “Trainers have been accused of making an already risky situation worse by drugging horses with performance-enhancing substances or painkillers, animal welfare advocates say.”

The Stronach Group's Chief Operating Officer, Tim Ritvo, spoke to media in the Preakness press box Saturday afternoon and said “we feel this track is one of the safest racetracks in America right now with the protocols in place.”

“We're looking at ourselves all the time to see what we can do to improve, what the sport can do to improve,” said Ritvo. “Unfortunately, percentage-wise, the last two months [at Santa Anita] were really good until yesterday. It's an unfortunate incident that we'll continue to study to see what we can do better.”

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