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Report Finds No Evidence That Illegal Drugs Contributed To 23 Horse Deaths At Santa Anita

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A state investigation has found no evidence that illegal medication or procedures contributed to the deaths of 23 horses who died while racing or training at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia during the 2019 winter season.

The 77-page report released Tuesday by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) examined 23 horse deaths which occurred between Dec. 30, 2018, and March 31, 2019.

Racing Season Ends At Santa Anita After 30th Horse Dies
ARCADIA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: Race horses run on the final day of the winter/spring horse racing season at Santa Anita Park on June 23, 2019 in Arcadia, California. Santa Anita ownership banned a Hall of Fame trainer yesterday following the death of a fourth horse from his stable at the track. It was the 30th race horse to die at the famed racetrack since December 26. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Since December of 2018, a total of 46 horses have died while racing or training at Santa Anita. Of those, nine deaths have occurred during the current winter racing season, which began in December.

The report found that 21 of the 23 horses had "evidence of pre-existing pathology" at the site of where their fatal injuries occurred. The report also found that 39 percent of the fatalities occurred on track surfaces affected by wet weather. However, while several trainers expressed various concerns over the condition of the track due to weather and maintenance issues, "none blamed the track itself for any fatality," the report read.

It also found that 19 of the 22 "catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries" involved "proximal sesamoid bone fractures," or fractures of small bones in the foot.

The spate of Santa Anita horse deaths last year sparked heightened scrutiny of horse racing, not just at the Arcadia track, but across the state and country. Politicians and animal-rights activists have stepped up their calls for the elimination of horse racing in California.

Last June, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill giving the CHRB the authority to halt racing at Santa Anita if it so chooses.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office last year concluded an investigation into the horse deaths without finding any evidence to support criminal prosecution.

Racing at Santa Anita was temporarily suspended in February of 2019 – following the 19th horse death — and again that 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 issue.

Santa Anita was mired in controversy again in September when the New York Times published a report alleging that 2018 Triple-Crown winner Justify had failed a drug test after the Santa Anita Derby, and the CHRB kept the test result secret. Prominent trainer Bob Baffert vehemently denied that Justify was intentionally given performance-enhancing drugs, instead saying that that the Scopolamine found in Justify's system after the horse won the Santa Anita Derby in April of 2018 was due to Jimson Weed in his feed.

In November, the CHRB submitted a series of proposed regulations designed to eliminate medications from the sport, mitigate injuries and increase transparency.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)


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