June 23, 2019

There was a point in my life where I was a little horse obsessed. They are just magnificent animals. I found out that the polo grounds (I know, I know) near my home was looking for people who would walk down polo ponies (Because of the intensity of play, ponies are switched out often during the course of a match. The retiring pony would need to be walked down from all the exertion lest it cool too quickly and get ill), so I got myself out there to volunteer to walk the ponies and wipe them down just so I could be close to them. I loved everything about being there with those horses.

I've been to the races a few times. You can't get as close to the horses as I could the ponies. But I love watching them parade before the races so that you can see them with their trainers/handlers. Are they feisty? Do they look like they're just itching to race? Or do they just looked bored or stressed? When you spend enough time with horses, it's not hard to see who has that desire to race and who doesn't.

So it's bone-chilling to me to hear about the continual problems at Santa Anita Park, which is the racing track where I was introduced to racing. Today ends their 85th season and it is under the black cloud of the 30th horse injured and put down this season (The season started in December). Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has been banned from the park with this death, his fourth horse injured and euthanized at the park.

According to The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, Hollendorfer "is no longer welcome to stable, race or train his horses at any of our facilities."

The animal advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a statement praising officials for banning Hollendorfer but still calling for further action.

"PETA and Social Compassion in Legislation are working with the California Horse Racing Board and California legislators to enact rules and legislation to get to zero fatalities and this means that trainers with multiple violations must not be licensed in this state. Ending all racing cruelty would be the best, but nothing less than these conditions is acceptable," PETA said in a statement.

An unacceptable 60 horses have been put down at Santa Anita since 2018. Clearly, it's going to take more than banning one trainer for this to be dealt with.

Everyone seems to agree that weather played a factor in this year’s breakdowns at Santa Anita. There was more than 20 inches of rain at the track, and the dirt was continually being sealed and unsealed, a process in which the surface is tightly compressed so that water rolls off the top and doesn’t seep into the ground to create mud.

There has been speculation that the hard surface over which the horses were running created micro-fractures that later manifested into breakdowns.

California's unusually wet winter undoubtedly played a role, but that doesn't answer for 2018's deaths. A similar problem threatened New York's Aquaduct track back in 2011-12, which found that at least half the deaths could have been preventable if there wasn't such pressure to run horses, even if they were unfit, to maximize profits. If it turns out that the Santa Anita management was doing the same, it's really time to consider pulling their license.

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