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Protesters converge on California racetrack following 20th horse death

19 horses die over two months at racetrack

Animal rights activists are calling for the closure of a renowned Southern California Thoroughbred racetrack after another horse died Saturday — the 20th such death in the past two months.

Eskenforadrink, a 4-year-old filly who was the even-money favorite in Saturday's third race, suffered an injury to her right front ankle during the race and had to be euthanized, racing officials said. Twenty horses have died at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia while racing or training since Dec. 26, double the number of deaths during last year's winter meet.

"One is too many," said Santa Anita Park Director of Publicity Mike Willman. "Safety, equine and human, is our number one party."

Fans left the track Saturday with heavy hearts.

"I love the sport, I'll always love the sport. But every possibility, every nickel should be spent to provide safety of the horses, the animals, the jockeys, the trainers and the sport as a whole," Paul Scherick told CBS Los Angeles.

About a dozen people converged on the track Sunday with signs that read "Your Bets Cause Horses' Deaths" and "How Many Have To Die?"

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called for the track to close for good.

"Twenty dead horses is 20 too many and the only responsible action is for the track to close immediately to stop this spiral of deaths," PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said in a statement. "The California Horse Racing Board and Santa Anita must do this now, and law enforcement must begin an immediate investigation of trainers and veterinarians to find out if injured horses were being forced to run."

The track reopened Sunday after getting the all-clear from inspectors following Eskenforadrink's death. But officials announced that races would be canceled Thursday due to heavy rain expected in the area on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

The abnormal amount of rain that has fallen over Southern California this winter has been mentioned as a possible factor in the upsurge in horse deaths, with close to a foot of rain falling in February alone.

"They seal the track when you get heavy rains to keep it from washing out, and then they open it up, and sometimes when they open it up, they get wet spots and so on and so forth, and I think a lot of times that causes injuries," said James Cassidy, who has been a trainer at the track since 1980.

Santa Anita Park had temporarily closed last week after a 19th horse died. Breeders' Cup winner Battle of Midway sustained a fatal injury during a workout. 

Inspectors subsequently ran soil tests and even used radar and concluded the track was safe. 

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