Another horse died at Santa Anita Park in Southern California on Saturday — the 30th since Dec. 26 and the fourth this month — prompting the owners of what has become one of the deadliest racetracks in America to bar Jerry Hollendorfer, the horse’s Hall of Fame trainer.
American Currency died after a training session Saturday. The horse was the fourth trained by Hollendorfer to die at Santa Anita Park since the meeting opened on Dec. 26.
The spike in fatalities at the landmark racetrack has put a bull’s-eye on the very existence of one of America’s oldest sports. The deaths have prompted an investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and earned public rebukes from Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.
The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and six other American racetracks, has blamed corrupt trainers and owners for the deaths, which have dominated national headlines and imperiled the sport nationally.
In March, the Stronach Group implemented some of the most aggressive and wide-ranging drug and safety rules in America to protect horses at its tracks.
“Individuals who do not embrace the new rules and safety measures that put horse and rider safety above all else will have no place at any Stronach Group racetrack,” the company said in a statement. “We regret that Mr. Hollendorfer’s record in recent months at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields has become increasingly challenging and does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand.
“Effective immediately, Mr. Hollendorfer is no longer welcome to stable, race or train his horses at any of our facilities.”
The Stronach Group was trying to run out the clock on what has been a harrowing race meet at Santa Anita and for the sport. After two interruptions that suspended racing for several weeks, the Stronach Group hoped that it could finish its meet on Sunday with no further tragedies.
This month, California regulators announced that a team of medical and racing officials would put thoroughbreds at the track under increased scrutiny to ensure that unsound horses were not allowed to race. This came in response to criticism from Newsom, who had asked for a moratorium on racing at Santa Anita.
The governor’s statement came just days after the California Horse Racing Board asked the park’s owners to shut down and forgo the remaining days of the meet.
But neither the Stronach Group nor the state associations for horse owners and trainers were willing to abandon the remaining dates at Santa Anita.
Nearly 10 horses a week on average died at American racetracks in 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. That fatality rate is two and a half to five times greater than in the rest of the horse racing world.
The sport itself is divided. On one side are horse breeders and owners who back a federal bill to create a uniform national standard for drug testing and medication rules in racehorses that would be overseen by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. On the other side are associations representing horse trainers and racetrack owners like Churchill Downs, site of the Kentucky Derby, that say the reforms are too expensive and intrusive.
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