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Thoroughbred Trainers, Fans Respond To Anti-Horseracing Activists' Claims Of Cruelty

PLEASANTON (KPIX) - A group of animal rights activists protested outside the Alameda County Fair most of the day calling for an end to horse racing, on Saturday. Inside, racing fans, trainers and professionals had a different view of the industry.

The anti-horseracing group 'Horseracing Wrongs' was spurred into action after the death of 30 horses at Santa Anita Racetrack in southern California, over the past 6 months.

Kristina Verdile is one of them.

"Thank you for not betting today on horses. Horses die on this racetrack because of our bets," Verdile told fairgoers as they walked in.

"Horse racing kills horses," she said as she and other volunteers held signs and handed out fliers.

"These people are making money off the suffering and cruelty and death of horses," says Verdile.

Professionals involved in the horse racing industry say that simply is not true.

"These horses are cared for so well. We don't do this to make money. Anybody in the business will tell you that. You do it because you love it and it's your passion," says Quinn Howey who has been training horses for about 15 years.

Since the deaths at Santa Anita, horse racing in California is facing new scrutiny. On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 469, a new bill gives the state's racing board more enforcement power when it comes to safety issues.

"There's finger pointing and this industry needs to take responsibility. Medication, whips, and taking care of these horses -- and making sure that racing surface is excellent," says Larry Swartzlander, Executive Director of racing at the county fairs in California.

He says the controversy has helped bring about needed reforms of allowable medications and how jockeys can use whips during races.

Swartzlander also says the sudden spike in the number of fatalities seems to be limited to Santa Anita, which could signal a problem with the track itself due to the record amount of rain this winter.

"The water gets down in there and you start to get breaks in that base, and once you do that, it's just like you're running down the street with pot holes. If you hit a pot hole, guess what? You're going to break your ankle," says Swartzlander.

Racing fans say the health of the horses should always come first.

"Trainers are running the horses when they're not 100 percent sound, and that's not good for the races, not the animals, or the fans," says Herbert Robinson, who was attending the races at the Alameda County Fair.

"I don't know what the answer is, but I don't think wiping out horse racing is the answer," said long-time racing fan Richard Stecz.

Swartzlander says the tracks at the county fairs have some of the best safety records in the state. There have been no thoroughbred racing horse fatalities in the past two years.

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