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Santa Anita Park Reports 6 Horse Deaths So Far In 2023, Renewing Racing Scrutiny

A pack of horses and their jockeys round a turn on a race track. Three horses are tied at the lead. The track is dirt. It is daytime.
A horse race at Santa Anita Park in the 2013 Breeders' Cup.
(Matthew Stockman
Getty Images)
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The horse racing facility at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia has reported six horse deaths since Jan. 1, already reaching half the total for 2022 in just the first six weeks of this year.

Of the six horses that have died this year, four were from bone injuries, which the sport has been trying to reduce, according to Mike Marten, a spokesperson from the California Horse Racing Board.

"Bone injuries [are] the ones we find unacceptable," he said.

The other two fatalities were sudden deaths, the causes of which are often difficult to determine.

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One important note: The 12 deaths reported in 2022 were well below a typical year at the track. Between 1995 and 2018, Santa Anita averaged 50 horse deaths per year.

Another Southern California track, Los Alamitos Race Course, has reported four horse fatalities this year, all listed as bone injuries.

An industry under scrutiny

Horse racing in California and North America underwent international scrutiny in 2019 after a wave of media coverage and public outcry drew attention to the routine high number of equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park and racing in general.

At that time, the average number of horse deaths at Santa Anita were comparable to deaths at Golden Gate Fields and Los Alamitos.

In response, state and racing officials worked to strengthen regulations around the use of riding crops, medication for horses, education for trainers and jockeys, track safety, and recuperation policies for injured horses.

About the new rules
    • The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (“HISA”) was passed by Congress in 2020 and went into effect in July 2022. It marked the first "nationwide safety and integrity rules to govern Thoroughbred racing in America."
    • California lawmakers passed laws in 2020 that included new criteria for the examination of race horses, monitoring requirements for training and other safety precautions. They also required facilities to publish weekly updates on horse fatalities.

Horse fatalities have been decreasing

In the past two years, horse fatalities have decreased by 55% in California, said Marten. But horses are still dying; in 2020, there were 20 equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park. In 2021, there were 21.

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Last year, 66 horses died at California racing facilities. That's down significantly from a stretch in the early 2000s of 300 or more deaths each year statewide.

"It's a bit depressing to see these continue, but the effort doesn't stop here," said Marten. "As we go along, we find these partial solutions and that reduces the number, but it's still too high."

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