Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey on Thursday issued a 17-page report on the deaths of horses at Santa Anita Park with more than two dozen recommendations on how to improve safety at all California racetracks. The report found no criminal wrongdoing at Santa Anita Park.
“Horse racing has inherent risks, but is a legally sanctioned sport in California,” Lacey said. “Greater precautions are needed to enhance safety and protect both horses and their riders.”
It was Lacey who formed a task force (months ago) of experienced deputy district attorneys and sworn peace officers to investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park.
“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 states.
According to the report, the number of horse deaths at Santa Anita over the past decade have ranged from a high of 71 in fiscal year 2011-12 to a low of 37 in fiscal year 2010-11. There were 49 horse deaths in 2018-19.
The District Attorney’s Office lacks legal jurisdiction to regulate the horse racing industry. However, Lacey plans to sponsor legislation to create transparency of veterinary records for horses training and racing on California tracks.
In the report, Lacey called for the California horse racing industry and regulators to coordinate their efforts and formalize strategic safety plans aimed at reducing horse deaths.
She also recommended best practices aimed at reducing horse fatalities at Santa Anita Park and other racetracks in California. They include:
• Urging the California Horse Racing Board to prepare an annual racing fatality report that includes all equine fatalities at California racetracks and identifies contributing factors.
• Mandating that all racing and training fatalities undergo thorough investigations conducted by sworn CHRB investigators that includes obtaining autopsy, training and veterinary records as well as interviewing people associated with the training, treatment and care of the fatally injured horse.
• Evaluating the need to enhance penalties for CHRB violations of rules and regulations to reflect the severity of some violations and to serve as an effective future deterrent.
• Establishing a tip line to encourage the reporting of suspected animal cruelty, horses at risk or illegal practices.
The Stronach Group, which owns and operates Santa Anita Park, released a statement Thursday following the release of Lacey’s report:
“We thank District Attorney Lacey’s office for their diligent work in this robust investigation into whether any conduct or conditions at Santa Anita Park affected the welfare of safety and horses. 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. And we are gratified that the District Attorney’s report into the conduct and conditions at Santa Anita Park found no evidence of misconduct.
“The Stronach Group looks forward to working further with the California Horse Racing Board, industry partners, and other stakeholders to implement recommendations from the task force’s report, many of which Santa Anita Park has already started implementing.”
The Daily Racing Blog commends Ms. Lacey for her diligent work in reaching the conclusions she did, as well as recognizing that problems still exist in the industry, while recommending some procedures that could alleviate the on-going issues.