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Another horse dies at California track

This March 7, 2019 file photo of shows Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., where 26 horse have died since Dec. 26.

DANIA MAXWELL/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

By DES BIELER | The Washington Post | Published: May 27, 2019

A horse died this weekend after racing at Santa Anita Park, the latest in a string of troubling equine fatalities at the California track.

Twenty-six horses have died at Santa Anita since Dec. 26, a count that now includes Kochees, a 9-year-old gelding, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kochees was injured during a race Saturday, the Times reported, and died Sunday. The latest death at Santa Anita - a track that has attracted national attention as the toll continued to grow - is also the third since May 17.

"Every attempt was made to save him, but he was euthanized earlier today," track spokesman Mike Willman told KABC of Kochees.

According to the Times, surgery on Kochees was considered after an injury to his left front leg. But a decision was made Sunday to euthanize the horse when surgeons found that he had lost bloodflow to the leg.

After a spate of horse deaths following the start of the season, Santa Anita temporarily halted racing in early March to study its track and enact changes, including limitations on the use of an anti-bleeding medication. Other reforms included greater transparency of veterinary records, stricter out-of-competition testing and an investment by the Stronach Group, which owns the track, in equipment to better detect horses' possible preexisting conditions.

Two days after racing resumed March 29, another horse died when Arms Runner stumbled on the dirt segment of a downhill turf course at Santa Anita.

The fatalities drew the attention of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who in early April called for all racing at Santa Anita to be suspended "until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated."

Later that month, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the formation of a task force to investigate the horse deaths. The group would "thoroughly investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park," Lacey said in a statement.

After the death of Arms Runner, almost seven weeks went by without another fatality at Santa Anita. But on May 17 - one day before the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore - an unraced 3-year-old suffered a shoulder injury during training at Santa Anita and was subsequently euthanized. The same day, across the country at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland, a 3-year-old filly collapsed and died.

Two days after those deaths, a 3-year-old named Spectacular Music showed an injury during a race at Santa Anita and was put down the next day.

The death of Kochees again renewed questions about Santa Anita and of the safety of horse racing.

"Santa Anita and all California tracks must suspend racing until the ongoing investigation by the district attorney is complete and the new rules have been strengthened," Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said Sunday in a statement. "Decreasing the number of broken bones is not enough. . . . Nothing short of a zero-fatality rate is acceptable."

The Stronach Group did not immediately respond to The Washington Post's request for comment on the death of Kochees.

Some have speculated that the spike in deaths at Santa Anita is related to unusually wet weather in the region, but studies by experts of the track there have yet to pinpoint any specific problem. Other potential factors include the use of drugs or whipping by jockeys.

Those factors, and their toll, are hardly specific to Santa Anita. At Pennsylvania's three thoroughbred racing venues, 87 horses died last year, a rate of about 1 1/2 per week, according to The Associated Press).

"The issue isn't about a single track; horse fatalities are a nationwide problem that needs to be addressed on an industrywide basis," the Jockey Club said in reference to Santa Anita in early April, after the death of Arms Runner.

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