Richard Mackson, USA Today Sports.
- The New York Times recently published a report into the 30 horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California.
- Santa Anita is owned by The Stronach Group, which has not done anything substantial to stop the fatalities.
- BlackJack Fletcher explains why horse players and racing fans should avoid tracks owned by The Stronach Group.
One June 26, the New York Times published an excellent article about the recent horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California. Thirty horses have died at Santa Anita since the meet began in late December.
That number is horrifying and unacceptable. Santa Anita has provided no answers and the track has continued to hold racing through the turmoil.
They did implement “reforms” in March after suspending racing for a little while, but basically all that meant is the track shifted blame onto trainers and owners. They made changes to the types of medications that were allowed on race day, but most horse racing people were not satisfied with the changes and the lack of answers provided by Belinda Stronach, the track’s owner.
After racing resumed, so did the deaths.
The article in the New York Times offers more answers than any other publication. The track surface is clearly an issue. Santa Anita used to run on a synthetic track made of a combination of sand, rubber and silica. This was a much safer surface for horses to run on, however was considerably more expensive to maintain than a traditional track surface made of sand and dirt.
In 2010 the Stronach Group decided to return to a traditional surface and abandon the synthetic track. The switch in surfaces did not cause an immediate uptick in fatalities, but this year — thanks to an unseasonably cool and wet winter in Southern California — that has changed.
Bad weather be damned, the Stronach Group decided to continue running races. They have placed an organizational priority on increased profits and have jeopardized horse safety as a result.
Multiple trainers reported that they were pressured by track owners and administrators to run their horses in more races or risk losing their barn space, which is necessary for their operations to continue.
Even with increased safety issues and considerable weather concerns, the Stronach Group has increased the number of races on the card, which in turn requires more horses to run in order to fill the cards.
The Stronach Group is trying its best to deflect the blame and pointing to medication abuse is an easy out. Sure, some trainers abuse medications and others simply use it to try to find an edge, but almost all trainers are horsemen and care about the well-being of the animals in their stable.
To put the blame squarely on the trainers is a dereliction of duty by the owners of Santa Anita. If a trainer is drugging horses, the management of the track should have mechanisms in place to find that out and they should not allow those trainers at their facility.
It’s crystal clear that the Stronach Group has prioritized profits over everything. Santa Anita sits on incredibly valuable land, 15 miles outside of the Los Angeles city limits and is nestled at the bed of the San Gabriel Mountains. It is worth an estimated half-billion dollars if it were to be sold to developers.
If the track doesn’t bring in enough money, The Stronach Group could sell the land and shutter the track.
The Stronach Group aren’t first-time offenders, either. In 2002, the group purchased Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Downs in Maryland. Pimlico is, of course, the home of The Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown. The Preakness has been held at Pimlico for 144 years.
Now, the Stronach Group wants to move the historic race to Laurel because they claim Pimlico needs too many renovations.
The problem with that logic is that the state of Maryland has given The Stronach Group $45 million for renovations to both tracks. Of the $45 million, the Stronach Group has decided to spend $39 million on Laurel and only $6 million on Pimlico.
The fact that they want to shutter Pimlico is non-sensical and wrong. If Pimlico was in such dire shape perhaps they shouldn’t have purchased the track, or they should have spent more of the renovation money to upgrade its facilities.
The Stronach Group is bad for horse racing. That is the bottom line. They focus on dollars and not the horses, jockeys and countless others that depend on the racetrack for a living.
As an avid horse player, I avoid their tracks. Not only do I not want to give them my money, but I also cannot trust that the races are on the up and up.
Without assurance that the playing field is level, no gambler should spend a dollar at a Stronach track.