So many horses have died at Del Mar this season, a California lawmaker is calling for a state investigation and track managers have decided to delay the start of the 2017 racing season.
Animal advocates claim 19 race horses have been euthanized since the summer season of racing at Del Mar began on Friday, July 15. According to the track president, the number of horses euthanized due to injury this season is 12.
According to the state’s weekly reports, 16 horses have died since the season began.
Both sides agree the loss of one horse is too many.
On Thursday, former California State Assembly member Lori Saldana urged the California Horse Racing Board to investigate deaths and injuries at Del Mar.
“No spectator sport should ever have to put up with this type of loss of animals especially when it happens in view of families that are here for race day,” Saldana said.
She cited recent changes at SeaWorld San Diego and traveling circuses as evidence that there has been a shift when it comes to interacting with animals during our leisure time.
“It could be that people’s attitudes are changing,” she added.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC), facing increased criticism over the deaths, will push back the 2017 season start date and implement new biomarker technology on horses next year.
Track president Joe Harper said both moves are to prevent further deaths.
“Believe me, when one [horse] is injured, we all feel it,” Harper said.
After an early rash of horses suffering fatal injuries at the track, Harper brought in a specialist who studied the turf. The expert found it was “where it should be,” Harper said.
Harper said he also added more veterinarians to check the horses. Every horse is examined at least three times a day, he said, in the morning, in the afternoon in the receiving barn and again in the paddock to ensure they warm up properly.
In 2017, Del Mar will schedule Opening Day later in the summer to give horses a chance to adjust to the track, Harper said.
The club will also start a program using biomarker technology on the horses through funding with the Jockey Club and the DMTC. Blood samples will be taken from competition horses, according to Harper, giving them a picture of what’s going on with the horse before and after the race.
“This is a fairly new procedure,” he said. “I think it will certainly tell us a lot about what’s in these horses as they get to the starting gate.”
The first fatality happened on Opening Day when a horse named Presidential Air “broke down badly” in the sixth race according to the Daily Forum. The horse was euthanized.
On July 21, Pacific Swell broke down in the fifth race.
On July 23, the Los Angeles Times reported that Dutchessa collapsed 40 yards past the finish line during Race 2 and had to be euthanized.
On July 24, Fasnacloich broke down in the second race and was euthanized according to the track steward’s minutes.
On August 11, Summer Scorcher was euthanized after breaking down in Race 6.
On August 12, Hadfunlastnight was pulled post-race and euthanized according to the track steward’s minutes.
The Jockey Club monitors injuries and fatalities on tracks and offers a set of statistics for Del Mar from 2015. In 60 race days, there were 10 fatalities. The year before, in 2014, there were nine fatalities in 51 days.