Horse racing officials indefinitely shut down a Los Angeles race track Tuesday after 21 horses died since the track’s winter season commenced, worrying the horse racing community as it attempts to figure out what caused the mysterious deaths.
Nine horses died in training at the Santa Anita Park. Seven others died racing on the park’s dirt oval track, and five horses died during turf races. In total, 21 horses have died since the winter season began on Dec. 26.
“Something is drastically wrong. I’ve been around a long time and have never seen this,” trainer Art Sherman told The Los Angeles Times. “There’s something wrong in the foundation, or something is not right. The only way to find out is shut it down.”
The park’s owner thinks the winter’s unusually cold and wet weather could be contributing to the horse fatalities. “We think that could definitely contribute even though our experts are telling us not,” Stronach Group CEO Tim Ritvo told the Associated Press. “The tracks out here are built not for weather like that.”
“I think the weather has a lot to do with it,” trainer Ron McAnally also said. His horse was put down Tuesday following a training injury.
Experts have not been able to find any major irregularities at the park, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. University of Kentucky inspector and expert Mick Peterson vowed to “keep testing until we know what’s going on.”
“Obviously, one horse is too many,” Ritvo also said. “The recent rash is just horrible. We need to definitely take a step back and evaluate everything.”
PETA demanded the track be close in a statement following the 20th horse death Saturday, the Post reported. The group also called for an investigation to determine if horses were being forced to train through injuries.
“Without our athletes, without our most precious asset, there is no sport,” trainer Bob Hess told the Times. “Something is wrong and needs to be fixed and addressed immediately.”
“It’s past the point of embarrassing … Without the horses, we’re nothing,” Hess added.
Two of the park’s most notable races, the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap, have been postponed during the closure.
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