Activists pressure state to investigate spike in Del Mar horse racing deaths

Posted at 7:13 AM, Aug 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-25 21:49:28-04

DEL MAR, Calif. -- A handful of advocates held a protest Thursday outside the California Horse Racing Board meeting in an effort to pressure the board into investigating the alarming slew of horse deaths that have occurred at the Del Mar Racetrack this season.

Since racing season opened July 15, an estimated 16 horses have had to be euthanized following workouts or races, according to numbers from the San Diego Union-Tribune. Six of those died during racing and 10 during training.

Seven of the deaths occurred in just the first eight days of racing.

Protesters are asking the board to investigate the deaths more thoroughly.

"Something's wrong and not enough is being done to find out what's happening," Toni Falcon told 10News.

"Believe me, when one is injured we all feel it," said Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Racetrack. "It's emotionally very tough for us to see these kinds of injuries happen."

In 2015, nine horses were euthanized at Del Mar. Eleven were euthanized in 2014. In 2013, only four were euthanized.

Harper told 10News Thursday that the racetrack would be making some adjustments next summer in an effort to reduce the number of deaths. Those included pushing back Opening Day to give the horses more time to adjust to the track. They will also do bloodwork on the horses before and after races.

"There isn't something we can point our finger at and say 'they're all doing this and therefore this is happening,'" Del Mar Thoroughbred Club spokesman Mac McBride told 10News in late July.

Horse racing expert Bill Shanklin of told 10News, "Typically, a synthetic surface has proved to be the safest; turf (grass) is next, and then dirt is the least safe. There are experts in track surfaces that I am sure Del Mar is consulting. Management at Del Mar is first rate and they truly have the best interests of horses in mind. Del Mar is considered one of the best racetracks in the United States. The variability on the turf course from year to year is obviously a concern."

Shanklin also added injuries to racehorses are "dependent on much more than track surfaces," and he cited time between races, lengths of races and the horse's age as some factors.

Among those who protested outside the meeting was former California Assemblywoman Lori Saldana.

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The Del Mar racing season ends on Sept. 5.