California’s embattled Santa Anita race track kicked off a new horse racing season over the weekend with a new horse death.
A 3-year-old colt, Emtech, had to be euthanized on Saturday after suffering an injury during the second day of the opening 23-day Autumn Meet, raising the number of fatal injuries sustained at the Arcadia park to 32 since Dec. 26.
Emtech was euthanized on the track after breaking both of his front legs while participating in the eighth race, the park said. Emtech’s death came 12 days after another horse, a 4-year-old gelding named Zeke, had to be euthanized after suffering a pelvic fracture during training on Sept. 16.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, responding to the news of Zeke’s death last week, warned that horse racing may not have a future in his state.
“I’ll tell you, talk about a sport whose time is up unless they reform. That’s horse racing. Incredible abuses to these precious animals and the willingness to just to spit these animals out and literally take their lives is a disgrace,” Newsom told The New York Times.
Back in June, Newsom signed a bill that gives the California Horse Racing Board the authority to suspend a race meet license when it’s necessary to protect the health and safety of horses or riders at the track. Previous regulations allowed a track’s operators to dismiss the racing board’s requests.
A public information officer for the racing board, reached by HuffPost via email, said it will conduct a full investigation into Emtech’s death. The officer also shared a statement from the board’s equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, who said Emtech had passed all required pre-race examinations though there were past health issues.
Last October, Emtech was placed on a veterinarian’s list of horses unable to race due to “unsoundness,” which is a defect that affects serviceability. This led to a past purchase of him, or claim, being voided. Emtech was laid off that November and did not work again until May 2019. The following month he passed all requirements to be removed from the veterinarian’s list, Arthur said.
The Stronach Group, which owns the track outside Los Angeles, said its safety measures put horse and rider safety above all else.
“There is an expected level of safety and accountability that is required to participate at a Stronach Group racetrack. If anything less is found which could have contributed to this incident, it will be addressed immediately,” it said in a statement.
A necropsy on Emtech will be performed to help determine what may have contributed to his injury, said Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinarian for the Stronach Group.
Back in June, the park rolled out a number of new racetrack safety measures after an agreement with the California Horse Racing Board. This followed the Los Angeles district attorney’s office announcing in March that it would investigate the horse injuries, though no conclusion has been released.
Since then, Hall of Fame horse trainer Bob Baffert was publicly grilled earlier this month after it was revealed by the Times that his 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify had tested positive for the banned substance scopolamine just before competing in and winning the Kentucky Derby.
This positive test result was not released to the public. Justify went on to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become the 13th Triple Crown winner in history.
The California Horse Racing Board said the amount of scopolamine detected was too minuscule to be prosecuted. An attorney for Baffert claimed that the substance was the likely result of environmental contamination to the horse’s food.
Horse racing deaths are of course not exclusive to the Santa Anita Park.
Last year, nearly 10 horses died a week on average at U.S. racetracks, The New York Times reported, citing the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database.
That rate is reportedly two and a half to five times higher than rates in Europe and Asia, where there are more stringent rules against performance-enhancing drugs.
This story has been updated with a response from the California Horse Racing Board.