LOS ANGELES — Los Alamitos is off probation with the California Horse Racing Board approving its plan to address injuries and deaths at the Orange County track.
The board voted 6-0 remotely on Monday to allow Los Alamitos to continue operating. It had been on a 10-day probation and under threat of losing its license that runs through Dec. 22.
According to the board, 21 horses have died from racing or training at the track in 2020, including 10 since May 26. Two horses died after the board’s emergency meeting on July 10 in which it voted 5-1 to grant probation.
“I can assure you all that we’re kind of humiliated by this whole thing,” track owner Ed Allred told the board. “Things happen in clusters sometimes. We’re going to do everything we possibly can to do things properly in the future.”
The track’s new Safety Enhancement Plan includes: training practices, prerace procedures, a panel to review race entries and post-incident assessments.
One veterinarian will be added to the staff during morning training hours to observe horses as they enter and exit the track. The track will appoint a so-called safety steward to patrol the stable area to observe veterinarians and barn personnel daily. Similar measures are already in effect at Del Mar, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.
Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the board, said he doesn’t see an issue with the track surface.
“What I do see are questionable training and horse management practices and questionable veterinary practices,” he said.
He referred specifically to multiple and repeated intra-articular joint injections “often without diagnostic procedures.” Those inject a solution directly into a horse’s joint, which maximizes the effect of the medication by putting it exactly where it’s needed. The risks include infection, further damage to the joint and even laminitis, a potentially life-threatening affliction in a horse’s hoof.
Arthur said he met with vets at Los Alamitos recently and “made it clear that if veterinary practice did not change I would not hesitate to recommend to this board even more restrictive protocols.”
Before its vote, the board questioned whether a culture change was needed at the track.
“I will assure you that Dr. Allred leads the culture there and certainly by establishing this, trainers are going to have to explain to him if there is an accident or a fatality,” Arthur said.
“We want to give the track at Los Alamitos the backbone to crack down,” said Commissioner Wendy Mitchell, who was the lone dissenter in voting against probation.
Los Alamitos was the only track in California allowed to continue operating during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. It runs night racing Friday through Sunday featuring mostly quarter horses with some thoroughbred racing mixed in.
The meet from June 26-July 5, which featured strictly thoroughbreds, did not have any fatalities, the board said. The track has about 750 quarter horses and 750 thoroughbreds stabled on the grounds at any given time.
“Dr. Allred, you have stepped up and you’ve raised the bar. That’s what I wanted to see,” Commissioner Dennis Alfieri said. “We’re going to be watching this very closely.”
Representatives of the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Thoroughbred Owners of California reviewed the plan and said they approved.
New CHRB executive director Scott Cheney, who is not part of the six-member board, called for the July 10 emergency meeting. It was the first one held since the board was authorized by the state Legislature last year to stop racing at a track if it found it necessary. The expanded powers came after a sharp increase in horse deaths at Santa Anita.
Animal activists spoke out against Los Alamitos and urged the board to shut down racing in California during the 30-minute public comment period.
Trainer Jenine Sahadi said she had complete confidence in the track’s changes.
“California has made tremendous strides and every day we are striving to do better,” she said before calling out the activists for their “level of ignorance” in veterinary and racing matters.
Board chairman Greg Ferraro told Allred the changes are “very pleasing.”
“You can be assured we’ll be watching your improvement as it goes along,” he said.