U.S. NEWS

Another Horse Dies At Santa Anita Park Ahead Of Its Opening Weekend

Truest Reward died during training just days before the racetrack's winter-spring meeting opening day.

Another horse has died at California’s embattled Santa Anita Park, bringing the total number of horse deaths at the racetrack in the last year to 38.

Truest Reward, a 3-year-old Gelding, died on Thursday after breaking its left front leg on the training track, the Los Angeles Times reported. The track was closed to workouts but open for jogging and galloping ahead of the opening day of its winter-spring meeting on Saturday.

Aidan Butler, the acting executive director of California Racing Operations for The Stronach Group (which owns Santa Anita Park), confirmed the death in an email statement, but did not disclose the cause.

“Since the close of the Autumn meet on November 3, horses have made at least 52,000 trips over the Santa Anita tracks during training, with more than 4,000 timed works,” he said in a press release. “And, yes, unfortunately, of those 52,000 times, there was one accident during training just three days ago, which was devastating to all involved.”

Butler said he was proud of Santa Anita’s safety reforms and the hard work of veterinarians, trainers and the park’s 1,400 employees, despite bad press.

Over 35,000 people attended Saturday’s opening day, according to Mike Willman, Santa Anita’s director of publicity. The opening day was originally set for Thursday, but was postponed “with equine and rider safety of paramount concern” after heavy rain earlier in the week, the park said in a press release. 

The track was scrutinized for its extremely high fatality rate this year, and was temporarily closed for evaluations in March following an alarming spike in deaths since last year’s Dec. 26 opening day.

The park enlisted a track consultant in March to lead a study of the track surface, and the California Horse Racing Board has also performed multiple investigations. 

Following an investigation, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office concluded on Dec. 19 that there was no criminal misconduct in connection to the horse deaths. 

The District Attorney’s report praised Santa Anita for its improved safety policies, noting a significant reduction in fatalities since the start of the investigation and stating that “the industry as a whole should strive to do everything in its power to achieve these model numbers and continue to trend toward improved safety standards.”

Officials did, however, call on state regulators to develop safety enhancements to reduce the number of horse fatalities, including enhanced penalties for rules violations, a tip line for people to report violations and mandated inspections of racing facilities. They also suggested implementing procedures and tools that would help to identify pre-existing conditions in racehorses.

Santa Anita has implemented a variety of new racing and training protocols, and announced the launch of a new racing safety coalition in November. Earlier this month, they debuted a PET Scan machine that will be used for detection of pre-existing conditions in thoroughbreds’ ankle joints, and an MRI machine will be introduced in the new year.

“The safety of the horses and riders continues to be our North Star,” Butler said.