Officials at California’s Santa Anita racetrack have described the loss of a racehorse on Sunday as gut-wrenching, adding to a string of deaths on the iconic track.
The death of Arms Runner came just three days after racing resumed at the track, which had been closed for a safety assessment following a distressing string of horse fatalities.
Arms Runner became the 23rd horse to die there since late December.
He was competing in the San Simeon Stakes on the six-and-a-half furlong hillside grass course.
The accident occurred as Arms Runner was racing across the 80-foot dirt crossing on the grass track. He had almost completely covered the stretch of dirt when he went down. The trailing runner, the 5-year-old mare La Sardane, was taken down as a result.
She was walked back to her barn with no apparent injuries.
Arms Runner was assessed by track veterinarians and taken away in a van. Officials later confirmed that the horse, with 13 starts and earnings of $125,292 to his name, was euthanized following an assessment of his injury, understood to be to his right front leg.
Both jockeys, Martin Pedroza, who rode Arms Runner, and Ruben Fuentes, who rode La Sardane, were examined by on-site medical experts and released.
Track officials described the loss of Arms Runner, a five-year-old gelding owned by Rockingham Ranch, as a gut-wrenching blow to everyone in racing.
It said the track had been deemed by independent experts to be safe.
“It speaks to the larger issue of doing all that we can to better understand and prevent such catastrophic injuries, not only at Santa Anita , but throughout California and across the country,” Santa Anita officials said in a statement.
It said the California Horse Racing Board had unanimously adopted the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) standards last Thursday.
“We urge other racing venues in California to adopt the IFHA standards immediately. Together we can create higher standards and protocols across the board at all California racing and training venues.”
Last Thursday, Santa Anita together with the California Horse Racing Board announced other reforms, including strict limitations on the use of any pain or anti-inflammatory medication and treatment, a reduction of race-day use of the diuretic furosemide (Lasix) to a maximum of 50% of the current level, and a complete phasing out of all race-day medication (including Lasix) starting with the foal crop of 2018.
In other moves, no therapeutic medications or treatments will be allowed without a qualified veterinary diagnosis from a state-licensed veterinarian.
Use of the riding crop is now subject to strict rules, and complete transparency will be required in respect of all veterinary records.
There will be significant and strict out-of-competition drug testing.
Trainers must apply for permission to work a horse at least 48 hours in advance, and horses are now required to be on-site for an increased length of time before a race.
The owners of the track, The Stronach Group, will be investing in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
Most of the fatalities at Santa Anita since December 26 have involved the main dirt surface.
The track was closed early in March as the string of fatalities grew. A further safety assessment was carried out on the dirt surface, together with some renovation. It reopened on the Friday before Sunday’s fatality.
The US Jockey Club said the string of deaths at Santa Anita isn’t the first spike in fatalities at a US racetrack.
It said such tragic events had happened before at other tracks and would continue to occur without significant reform of the horse racing industry.
“The issue isn’t about a single track; horse fatalities are a nationwide problem that needs to be addressed on an industry-wide basis,” it said in a statement.
“There has been tremendous focus on the track surface, but the core of the problem lies in a fundamentally flawed system that falls far short of international horse racing standards — standards that better protect horses and result in far fewer injuries and deaths.
“Chief among the principles that make up the standards of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities are those guiding the development of an effective anti-doping program and the regulation of the use of performance-enhancing drugs and drugs that can mask injuries, both of which can result in injuries and deaths.
“Under IFHA policies, commonly used therapeutic medications capable of masking pain and other symptoms of discomfort must be withdrawn days or even weeks prior to the race as compared to hours before the race in the US,” it said.
“IFHA policies also encourage rest to recover from injuries as opposed to policies here that facilitate treatment so training can continue, imperiling both horse and rider.
“It’s time we joined the rest of the world in putting in place the best measures to protect the health and safety of our equine athletes and that can be done only with comprehensive reform. Reform that includes creation of an independent central rule-making authority, full transparency into all medical treatments and procedures, comprehensive drug reform, and strict anti-doping testing both in and out of competition.”
The Jockey Club laid out the case for reform, including specific recommendations, in a white paper released only days ago.
The senior vice-president of the animal welfare group PETA, Kathy Guillermo, said that over the past two weeks, Thoroughbred owners and trainers and the California Horse Racing Board have argued about medications, whipping, and the public perception of horse racing.
“But they did not take every measure needed to protect the horses.”
She said all drugs, including Lasix, needed to be banned entirely, and the known-safest racing surface — a synthetic track — must be used.
“Furthermore, PETA calls on Governor Newsom to urgently form an independent panel to investigate the training and veterinary practices in California racing, including the use of bisphosphonates and other medications that reportedly have been used indiscriminately.
“If the CHRB does not take every possible action to protect the horses, then racing should not be allowed to continue.”