All eyes in the equine industry have been on Santa Anita Park in Southern California with regard to horse deaths, considering there were dozens in 2019 and already 15 listed in 2020.
However, the focus recently shifted to Los Alamitos in Orange County.
The number of horse deaths at Los Alamitos in 2020 accumulated at an attention-getting rate, but it garnered much more attention in June. The California Horse Racing Board charted 21 deaths from December 27 through July 9, but nine of those took place just since May 26.
That prompted an emergency CHRB meeting on July 10. Changes ensued.
Examining an alarming trend of horse deaths
The California Horse Racing Board does not generally like to trigger alarm by issuing emergency meetings. This is likely especially the case in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, when racetracks are just trying to stay open and survive the harsh economic times.
However, on July 9, the CHRB did call an emergency meeting for the following day. The goal was to discuss the possibility of shutting down Los Alamitos Race Course. With nine horse deaths since May 26 and three of them in the most recent 10-day period, they deemed it an emergency.
CHRB Executive Director Scott Chaney told the LA Times, “The CHRB was concerned with what seemed to be an uptick in equine fatalities. We thought it was worthwhile to have a discussion on how to decrease those numbers and reverse the trend.”
CHRB meeting results allow Los Alamitos to stay open
The July 10 meeting was open to the public, though it was all done via teleconference with the public able to listen and/or dial in. Dr. Gregory Ferraro chaired the meeting. Vice Chair Oscar Gonzales attended, as did Commissioners Dennis Alfieri, Damascus Castellanos, Wendy Mitchell, and Alex Solis.
The Los Alamitos Quarter Horse Racing Association’s attorney presented testimony, and the CHRB medical director and Los Alamitos track veterinarian both provided statements.
Dr. Rick Arthur’s statement on behalf of Los Alamitos claimed no evidence of a problem with that track. Rather, he blamed horse fatalities on questionable training, horse management, and veterinary practices.
Ultimately, the CHRB voted 5-to-1 to allow Los Alamitos to remain open for racing, but on a probational basis. (Mitchell was the lone vote against.) The board also directed Los Alamitos to present a plan for reducing equine fatalities.
Without a plan by the July 20 CHRB meeting, the track faced a license suspension.
Los Alamitos safety plan includes tighter rules
Last week, the Los Alamitos Quarter Horse Racing Association produced its “Equine and Rider Safety and Enhancement Plan.”
— Daniel Ross (@1danross) July 15, 2020
It was a preliminary plan, as the track awaited public and CHRB comments to help shape the final product. As it stood, it offered guidance in six areas of operation:
- Training with increased observation, vet approval for entrances and exits from morning training
- Pre-race procedures, stricter requirements and vet examinations
- Entry review panel, determine suitability and ability to deny entry or scratch
- Post-incident assessments, fatality reviews
- Equine illness and recovery with some attention paid to non-musculoskeletal injuries
- Rules and conditions, limits on horse deaths per trainer, agreements required
Los Alamitos owner and CEO Dr. Ed Allred noted his hope that the improvements will provide for the health and safety of every horse and rider at the track’s facilities.
Probation officially removed
The extensive plan and cooperation from Los Alamitos produced a positive outcome at the July 20 meeting. The California Horse Racing Board unanimously voted to remove the track from probation and allow it to continue operating.
Even as the original dissenter in the July 10 vote, Mitchell commented that she wanted to give the track “the backbone to crack down.”
CEO Allred noted, “I can assure you all that we’re kind of humiliated by this whole thing. Things happen in clusters sometimes. We’re going to do everything we possibly can to do things properly in the future.”
Of course, Los Alamitos will remain under scrutiny going forward. Other tracks, especially Santa Anita, will likely also review the actions of the past two weeks to ensure that they, too, are doing everything possible to prevent unnecessary horse deaths in the second half of 2020.
Currently, Los Alamitos is closed to the public, though racing does take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with essential staff on hand. Fans are allowed to watch the races online and continue wagering on TVG and at some satellite facilities.
Los Alamitos can continue to race after spike of horse deaths, CHRB says https://t.co/Pgt6D4Jdae
— L.A. Times Sports (@latimessports) July 20, 2020