Between July 1, 2018, and November 30, 2019, 56 horses either died or were euthanized as the result of injuries sustained while training or racing at Santa Anita Park.
In response, track operators asked Mick Peterson, PhD, professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering at the University of Kentucky, to thoroughly examine the surface conditions at Santa Anita. The evaluation revealed no track-related link to the fatalities, Peterson said.
Meanwhile, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) launched its own investigation into the deaths and, in April, Lacey announced that her office had formed a task force to probe the incidents.
On Dec. 19 Lacey released a 17-page report absolving Santa Anita’s operators of wrongdoing in connection with the deaths.
“After a thorough investigation and review of the evidence, the district attorney’s task force did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park,” the report said.
In a written statement, Santa Anita Park operators, The Stronach Group, praised Lacey’s office for its “robust” investigation into the incidents and said it would continue to work with the CHRB and others to promote safety in California horseracing.
“We are all committed to the same thing—the highest level of equine safety and welfare—and we will continue to do everything possible to promote equine and rider health and safety.” the Stronach statement said.
Peterson praised the Stronach response.
“Now I think we see a commitment to be a leader in racing worldwide,” he said.
Meanwhile, Marty Irby, executive director of the equine advocacy group Animal Wellness Action, said the report underscores that reform is key to the future of horseracing nationwide.
“It’s time for an intervention,” Irby said, “and Congress must soon pass the Horseracing Integrity Act to reform the industry, or the public sentiment will continue to shift to eliminating horseracing itself.”