The Los Angeles Times and Paulick Report blog startled me this morning with updates on the number of horses euthanized at California's Santa Anita racetrack since it opened the day after Christmas.
In less than three weeks, seven horses have been euthanized. No word on how many others have been injured.
People are accustomed to the shock and horror of horses breaking down during races, but the reality is that more horses break down during early morning training sessions, as was the case on Sunday when two horses had to be euthanized.
No mention of the deaths is made in the news section or horsemen's notes on Santa Anita's web site.
The beautiful racetrack outside Los Angleles switched from a dirt surface to synthetic last year and experienced maintenance nightmares that caused the entire surface to be replaced with an Australian surface called Pro-Ride. The 2008 Breeders Cup was run on the Pro-Ride strip when it had been tested for only a month during the track's Oak Tree meet but the championship races went off without any fatalities. The major California tracks have all switched to artificial racing surfaces.
Santa Anita re-opened for its traditional winter meet over Christmas.
California led the nation in legislating lower toe grabs for race horses, along with the switch to synthetic surfaces that normally don't require traction devices anyway. Both moves were part of a concerted effort to reduce breakdowns and improve the safety of racehorses.
Oddly enough, the documentary/reality television show Jockeys was filmed at Santa Anita during the first weeks of the Oak Tree meet. It tracks the working and private lives of seven Santa Anita jockeys as they work toward the Breeders Cup. Presumably, the show, which premieres February 6 on Animal Planet, will give some interesting insights into the surface and the safety issues that were on the minds of jockeys and exercise riders as they rode over an untested surface.
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