Protesters Call for Horseracing Ban After 26th Horse Death At Santa Anita Park

A man in a horse mask protests deaths of horses at Santa Anita park after a 26th horse died this year. Behind his other protesters hold tombstones for each horse that has died at the park in 2019. (Photo by Sharon McNary for LAist)

Some protesters gathered Monday at Santa Anita Park calling for a halt to horseracing after the deaths of 26 thoroughbreds this season. Three died in the past two weeks. They want to see a ballot measure to end horseracing in California.

The number sounds like a lot — 26 horse deaths at Santa Anita during racing or training since late December. But the pace of fatalities is actually on track to equal the 37 horses that died under similar circumstances last year. Another seven horses died at Santa Anita in 2018 due to conditions not directly tied to racing, according to the California Horse Racing Board Annual Report. Statewide, 99 horses died last year in training or racing.

That's why protester Heather Wilson says a coalition of animal welfare groups want a measure on the state ballot to ban horseracing.

"There is collective outrage on what is happening and now is the time to take advantage," Wilson said.

After a spate of deaths in February and March, the track was closed and when it reopened, the owner has pressed for reforms among horse owners and trainers.

They then went seven weeks with no horses dying, said Santa Anita Park spokesman Stefan Friedman.

"If you don't follow the rules here." Friedman said. "You're not gonna be here anymore."

Those reforms include better oversight of drugs given to horses, and diagnosing pre-existing injuries, he said.

Then two weeks ago, the streak of no deaths ended. The horse that died this weekend was the third death since then.

But some fans said they didn't understand the fuss, saying injuries and yes, even death, is part of the sport. As he waited to get into the Santa Anita parking lot on Memorial Day One, one racing fan who gave his first name as Peter said it was the protesters that left him outraged.

He said the focus should be on the 1,600 horses that safely race each year.

"If you walked 16-hundred people around here each day, how many people will walk up strained with a bad knee or a bad leg or a bad whatever," he said.

Amanda Lundberg of Whittier holds a sign listing yearly horse deaths at Santa Anita park. The totals include deaths during training and racing, plus other deaths that occur in the stables during non-training time due to illness and other causes. (Sharon McMary for LAist)