Twenty-first horse sustains fatal injury at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. — A 21st horse has died at Santa Anita, with the latest fatality occurring during training, a person with direct knowledge of the situation said Tuesday.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the fatality has not been announced publicly.

The person said a 4-year-old filly trained by Hall of Famer Ron McAnally and owned by his wife Debbie was pulled up during morning training on the dirt track and was taken off by van. Lets Light the Way was later euthanized because of a right front leg injury.

A total of 21 horses have died since the racetrack’s winter meet began on Dec. 26. Of that number, seven deaths have occurred during a race on the dirt, five have occurred on turf and nine came during training on dirt.

In 2017, 20 deaths occurred among a total of 8,463 starts over a span of 122 racing days at Santa Anita, according to the most recent figures compiled by The Jockey Club.

There were 1.61 deaths per 1,000 starts in the U.S. in 2017, according to the most recent figures from the Equine Injury Database, compiled by The Jockey Club. That was a slight increase in the rate of fatal injury compared to 2016, when there were 1.54 deaths per 1,000 starts.

The majority of those deaths occurred on dirt surfaces (1.74 per 1,000 starts) compared to turf (1.36).

Track officials had already announced that Thursday’s racing was canceled and racing won’t resume until Friday, although the track is open daily for training.

Last week, Santa Anita was closed for two days while the dirt surface underwent extensive testing.

Mick Peterson, a soil and safety expert from the University of Kentucky who was brought in, proclaimed the track “100 percent ready” to resume racing.

Peterson said radar verified all of the materials, silt, clay and sand, as well as moisture content, were consistent everywhere on the track. Its dirt surface was peeled back 5 inches and reapplied.

Since Peterson’s comments, two horses have died, including McAnally’s filly. The 86-year-old trainer is one of the most respected in horse racing and has won three Eclipse Awards as the nation’s outstanding trainer.

Lets Light the Way had one win in four career starts and earnings of $18,500, according to Equibase. She last raced Feb. 2 at Santa Anita. McAnally purchased the filly for $15,000.

McAnally didn’t immediately return a message left on his cellphone by the AP.

The other death occurred Saturday during the third race when 4-year-old filly Eskenforadrink was in the lead. Jockey Geovanni Franco pulled her up with an injury to her front leg. The filly was vanned off the track and later euthanized.

Track officials announced in a statement Tuesday that Dennis Moore is returning to Santa Anita as a consultant. Moore worked as track superintendent in Arcadia from 2014 until he retired on Dec. 31. He currently holds the same position at Del Mar and Los Alamitos racetrack in Orange County.

He was to be on site immediately as “a precautionary measure with regard to the condition of the one-mile main track.” The track’s statement made no mention of the latest fatality.

In 2014, Moore oversaw a major renovation of the dirt surface that used “El Segundo sand,” which was dug up in that coastal suburb for construction projects at Los Angeles International Airport. The sand was screened for foreign materials and large rocks.

At the time, track officials said the reddish-brown sand would ensure balanced drainage during periods of wet weather and a consistent, safe cushion for horses year-round.

Santa Anita received 11 1/2 inches of rain and had unusually cold temperatures in February, but it’s unknown whether track conditions have played a role in any of the fatalities.

The National Weather Service is forecasting 1 to 2 inches of rain in Los Angeles County starting Tuesday night and into Wednesday.

The number of deaths has drawn both concern and criticism, much as it did in 2016 at Del Mar, California’s other major racetrack located north of San Diego.

That year, 16 horses died during the summer meet. Ten of those fatalities came during training and the other six were in races.

In 2017, Del Mar had six fatalities.

Santa Anita is set to host the Breeders’ Cup world championships in November for a record 10th time.

A handful of animal rights activists gathered outside Santa Anita’s main gate on Sunday, carrying signs and shouting.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, said in a statement last week, “We consider the safety and security of the athletes, both equine and human, who race at our facilities to be our top priority. All industry stakeholders, including our company, must be held accountable for the safety and security of the horses and we are committed to doing just that.”

The track will host a major day of racing Saturday, including the $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap for older horses and the $500,000 San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

Irad Ortiz sets single-season record with 77th stakes win

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NEW YORK – Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. earned his record 77th single-season North American stakes victory when he guided Dr B to victory in the $200,000 Go for Wand at Aqueduct.

The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico broke the old mark of 76 set by the late Hall of Fame rider Garrett Gomez in 2007.

“This is great. Amazing feeling,” said Ortiz, Jr., who won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey from 2018-20. “Gomez did it in 2007 and he was a great rider, one of the best in the game. I’m so happy just to be a part of this. I love this sport.”

Ortiz Jr. won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal in June to go with Breeders’ Cup victories in the Juvenile, Filly & Mare Sprint and Sprint. He also earned nine other Grade 1 wins in New York, including Life Is Good in the Woodward and Whitney and Nest in the Alabama and Coaching Club Oaks. He won riding titles at Belmont’s spring-summer meet and Saratoga’s summer meet.

Ortiz Jr. leads North American riders with 304 overall victories this year. His purse earnings totaled over $35.8 million going into Saturday’s races, which already surpassed his single-season record of $34.1 million in 2019.

Appeals court strikes down federal horseracing rules act

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NEW ORLEANS — Congress unconstitutionally gave too much power to a nonprofit authority it created in 2020 to develop and enforce horseracing rules, a federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled Friday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, or HISA, is “facially unconstitutional.”

The authority created by the act was meant to bring uniform policies and enforcement to horseracing amid doping scandals and racetrack horse deaths. But the 5th Circuit – in two rulings issued Friday – ruled in favor of opponents of the act in lawsuits brought by horseracing associations and state officials in Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The Federal Trade Commission has the ultimate authority to approve or reject HISA regulations, but it can’t modify them. And the authority can reject proposed modifications.

Three 5th Circuit judges agreed with opponents of the act – including the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and similar groups in multiple states – that the setup gave too much power to the nongovernmental authority and too little to the FTC.

“A cardinal constitutional principle is that federal power can be wielded only by the federal government. Private entities may do so only if they are subordinate to an agency,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel that ruled in the Texas case.

The same panel, which also included judges Carolyn Dineen King and Kurt Engelhardt, cited the Texas ruling in a separate order in favor of horseracing interests and regulators challenging HISA in a different case.

The chair of the horseracing authority’s board of directors said it would ask for further court review. Friday’s ruling could be appealed to the full 5th Circuit court of the Supreme Court.

“If today’s ruling were to stand, it would not go into effect until January 10, 2023 at the earliest,” Charles Scheeler said in an email. “We are focused on continuing our critical work to protect the safety and integrity of Thoroughbred racing, including the launch of HISA’s Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program on January 1, 2023.”

The ruling was criticized by Marty Irby, executive director of the Animal Wellness Action organization. “Over the course of three Congresses, the most brilliant legal minds on Capitol Hill addressed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act’s constitutionality and ultimately decided that the Federal Trade Commission’s limited oversight was sufficient,” Irby said in an email.

Among the subjects covered by the authority’s rules and enforcement were jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation, and the reporting of training and veterinary records.

Animal rights groups, who supported the law, pointed to scandals in the industry involving medication and the treatment of horses.

Duncan wrote that in declaring HISA unconstitutional, “we do not question Congress’s judgment about problems in the horseracing industry. That political call falls outside our lane.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, hailed the ruling on Twitter, calling HISA a “federal takeover of Louisiana horse racing.”