ARCADIA (CBSLA) – Amid the controversy over 23 horses who have died while racing or training at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia since December, CBS2 has uncovered that there were 36 additional horse deaths at Santa Anita in 2018.
According to documents obtained by CBS2's David Goldstein, 36 horses had to be euthanized after racing or training accidents at Santa Anita last year.
CBS2 provided the 36 necropsy reports for those deaths to Veterinarian Dr. Kate Papp -- who treats horses at Penn National Race Course in Pennsylvania – for review. Papp determined that nearly all those horses had pre-existing conditions.
"A lot of chronic wear and tear with the horses," Papp told CBS2. "Signs that the horses may not have been 100 percent comfortable when they were racing and training."
One of those 36 horses, Ten Blessings, suffered a shattered front ankle during a race.
"It (the necropsy report) does mention that the horse had a slab fracture on a completely different leg," Papp said.
Another horse, Sweet Emma, had to be euthanized last April. Her necropsy showed a "predisposing lesion for the fracture" in her ankle.
And Dial Me In, who was euthanized last April after making contact with another horse, showed a previous shoulder injury, according to the necropsy.
It's unclear if the trainers or veterinarians for the 36 horses knew about these injuries. Papp says that in some instances they may have. However, she says that several trainers at Santa Anita have told her that they're strongly encouraged to ensure the horses compete more often.
"If the racing office is calling, asking people to enter the horses before they're ready to come back, that certainly puts another component of risk and that's something that may be unique to Santa Anita," Papp said.
Veterinarian Dr. Rick Arthur oversees horse welfare and safety for the California Horse Racing Board, which regulates all tracks in the state. Arthur admits that there is more pressure to perform at Santa Anita than at other tracks.
"Our horses work more here, and train more here, than they do in other jurisdictions," Arthur told Goldstein.
Twenty-three horses have died while racing or training at Santa Anita since Dec. 26.
Racing at Santa Anita was temporarily suspended in February – following the 19th horse death — and again in March – following the 21st horse death — so experts could conduct testing on the park's three tracks – the main, training and turf tracks — to try and pinpoint the possible cause.
In April, the board decided to allow racing to continue at Santa Anita for the remainder of the season despite the slew of horse deaths.
When questioned by Goldstein regarding whether it's the board's responsibility to watch out for the health of the horses, Arthur responded, "Well it does, but there's only so much you can regulate."
On May 1, one day after Arthur's interview with CBS2, Santa Anita's owner, The Stronach Group, announced it had invested $500,000 to secure a cutting-edge device which it says helps "flag pre-existing conditions" in horses.
According to numbers from The Jockey Club, horse deaths at Santa Anita went down from 2.83 deaths per 1,000 starts in 2016, to just over 2.04 deaths in 2018. That's still higher than the national average of 1.68.
"Do you think you and the board have done enough to keep the horses safe?" Goldstein asked Arthur.
"I think we can always do more," Arthur responded.
Santa Anita Park refused a request for an on-camera interview with CBS2, but issued the following statement:
"Santa Anita is raising safety standards with unprecedented measures to increase the welfare of all athletes, especially our horses. In stride with our partners, we have taken steps to reduce the risk that horses run at Santa Anita with pre-existing conditions. Pre-existing injuries should not be masked, but rather addressed with the highest levels of medical scrutiny.
The Stronach Group has donated $500,000 to the Dolly Green Research Foundation (DRGF) to support the purchase of the cutting-edge Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan. The PET Scan has been praised by experts as a revolutionary breakthrough in equine health when it comes to detecting and understanding pre-existing bone injury. This machine will be available at Santa Anita Park at Southern California Equine Foundation's Equine Hospital in Santa Anita's Barn area Fall 2019. While more work needs to be done, The Stronach Group is committed to advancing the safety of our beloved horses."
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