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Maryland Horse Racing Regulators Question Laurel Park Executives After 8 Horses Die In 2 Months; Track To Remain Closed To Racing

LAUREL, Md. (WJZ) -- Maryland horse racing regulators questioned executives with Laurel Park after eight horses suffered injuries and had to be euthanized since early October.

The Maryland Racing Commission will reportedly make a final decision one week from today on whether racing can resume at Laurel. If they give the green light, it will start again on December 16th.

The latest incident happened on Nov. 28, when American Playboy suffered injuries that would later prove fatal.

"When you have a number of injuries, something sends a red flag and you're not too sure what's going to happen so you try to minimize any further injuries to horses," Mike Hopkins, Executive Director of the Maryland Racing Commission told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. "We interview the jockeys, the trainers. We look at medical records. We look at the previous history of the horse to see if they've been predisposed to other injuries and take a look at the race track and films of the race."

Executives with the Stronach Group, Laurel Park's owners, answered questions from Maryland's racing regulators Tuesday afternoon

Chopper 13 flew over the track, which was being groomed. Stronach pumped millions of dollars into refurbishing it just last Spring.

"In this particular circumstance, it was just unusual to get a half dozen horses in a very short period of time have injuries. That made us look at it rather quickly and try to figure out what was happening," Hopkins said.

Activist Patrick Battuello of Horseracing Wrongs has logged each death on his organization's website.

"Over the past four calendar years, an average of 33 horses have lost their lives at Laurel Park," he told Hellgren. "People need to ignore the distractions that the industry puts out—that it's the weather, maybe it's a bad trainer or there are too many drugs involved. The killing is built into the system."

His group is calling for an end to horse racing nationwide. Battuello referenced the outcry two years ago after 37 horses died at Santa Anita Park in California, which is also owned by Stronach.

This month, Medina Spirit, the horse that finished first in this year's Kentucky Derby but failed a drug test after the race, died after suffering a heart attack at Santa Anita, trainer Bob Baffert said. Baffert's attorney initially confirmed the death to CBS News.

The California Horse Racing Board said in a statement a necropsy would be performed at a lab run by the University of California, Davis, and a cause of death can't be determined until the examination and toxicology tests have been completed.

"Our question of the American public is why should horse racing be given a pass under the banner of sport," Battuello said.

Back at Laurel Park, the owners voluntarily stopped racing to look into any potential issues, according to Hopkins.

"Even though we might not find an answer as to why it occurred, we take that information and look at our procedures we use at the racetrack to improve the safety and the welfare of the horses," he said.

The Maryland Jockey Club said in a statement they are focused on safety and the track will remain closed.

"The Maryland Jockey Club today announced that Laurel Park will remain closed for racing as work continues to complete renovation to the track. Live racing at Laurel Park was suspended on December 3rd. Track renovation plans have been developed in collaboration with The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, the Maryland Jockey Club and industry experts with the goal of having the safest possible racing surface. The Maryland racing industry remains laser focused on prioritizing the safety, health and welfare of equine athletes, and is committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure that Maryland's historic racing industry remains world-class."

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