California Race Track Sees 20th Horse Die in Two Months: 'Not an Acceptable Number of Catastrophic Injuries'

Twenty horses have now died at California's Santa Anita Park racetrack in the past two months after a 4-year-old filly named Eskenforadrink was euthanized.

The horse took part in a race at the track—located in Arcadia, around 17 miles northeast of Los Angeles—on Saturday. It sustained a serious ankle injury while leading the pack, ABC News reported.

"We love these animals," trainer Bob Baffert told ABC-affiliate KABC. "We don't send them out there thinking something bad is going to happen, and it's stressful."

Officials had only reopened the main track two days prior to Saturday's race, after shutting it down for four days in order to conduct a soil inspection. Experts have suggested that recent heavy rainfall in the area may have created dangerous conditions on the track.

However, on February 27, Santa Anita management released a statement saying that the one-mile main track was "one-hundred percent ready" after experts had evaluated soil samples and ground-penetrating radar data—which can highlight dangerous inconsistencies.

On Sunday, track officials told KABC that racing conditions were good and nearly 400 horses had completed workouts without any issues between Thursday and Saturday. But since the winter race season began December 26, several of the competing horses have suffered life-ending fractures, while at least one had a heart attack.

"This is unusual. It does happen though—it's called statistical clustering—but we always take it seriously," Mick Peterson, director of the University of Kentucky's Agricultural Equine Programs who regularly evaluates soil at Santa Anita, told KABC. "This is not an acceptable number of catastrophic injuries."

The latest horse deaths have angered animal rights groups. On Sunday, activists arrived at the track to protest against alleged dangerous racing practices.

"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," a statement from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) read.

The organization is now calling for an investigation to determine whether the trainers masked undisclosed injuries in the horses with powerful medications which, PETA claims, are commonly used to keep unfit animals competing.

"Virtually every thoroughbred who races in California was given phenylbutazone, a strong anti-inflammatory drug, 24 hours before the race, and this can mask injury. Whether it's the medications or the weather or both, it's clear that no horse should be on that track."

"In California, every horse who dies on the track is necropsied—and the results of thousands of these procedures show that in almost all cases, the fatal breaks occurred where there was already an injury," the statement continued. "If trainers know that horses are sore or injured, and they're giving them painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sedatives to keep them running when they should be recuperating, the trainers are culpable in these deaths."

PETA says that, on average, three horses die on racetracks in the U.S. every day.

Santa Anita, Arcadia, California
Animal-rights advocates protest the deaths of 20 racehorses in the first two months of this year at the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California on March 3, 2019. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images