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More Horses Die at the Santa Anita Racetrack Than Other Tracks in the State

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Santa Anita racing (Photo by mlanda7419 via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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When HBO shut down production of the show "Luck" after three horses died on the set, it brought new attention to an old problem: how common the animals' deaths are at the racetrack.

It turns out that horse deaths are even more common at Santa Anita (where "Luck" was filmed) than other racing tracks around the state, and a piece in today's Los Angeles Times explains why.

California pays more attention to horse-racing more than most other states and tries to figure out ways to make the sport less deadly for horse (besides the obvious: shutting the entire sport down). In 2006, the state horse-racing board required racetracks to switch to using synthetic materials for their tracks instead of regular old dirt. The switch seemed to work and horse deaths went down 37 percent.

But at Santa Anita the switch to a synthetic track caused all sorts of new problems. The drainage system failed and trainers—who hate synthetic tracks and do not believe they're healthier for the horses—threatened to boycott the track. Santa Anita got a special exemption to switch back to dirt tracks, but now it has the dubious distinction of having the highest horse death rate in the state. On the synthetic track there were 1.5 deaths per 1,000 starts at Santa Anita. The new dirt track has 3.7 horse deaths per 1,000 starts.

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Santa Anita made some tweaks to the surface at a cost of $1 million this last year in the hopes of making the track safer, but the stats for the most recent year aren't out just yet.