Opening day demonstrators call for state-wide vote to ban all horse racing
By Al Stewart
Re-opened after being idle for nearly a month due to an alarming series of horse fatalities, Santa Anita Park on Sunday suffered one more tragic setback when yet another horse was euthanized after breaking a leg.
Two-horses spilled to the ground in a cloud of dust on the track’s unique “dirt crossing,” which links the hillside turf course to the main oval turf course. The harrowing incident marred the third day of resumed operations after the track was closed March 3 due to heightened concerns about horse safety.
With the Arcadia landmark rapidly becoming a target for animal rights activities, the resumption of racing was already facing intensified scrutiny. Indeed, racing fans returning to the 84-year old facility Friday, were greeted at the Colorado Place and Huntington Drive entrance by about 50 protesters. Noisy but peaceful, some wore horse head masts and signs asking drivers not to enter. Demonstrators told Arcadia Weekly they are demanding the “unapologetic abolition” of the sport.
While the first two days of racing were without incident, tragedy returned during Sunday’s fourth race, the $100,000 San Simeon Stakes. Arms Runner, a 5-year-old white-coated gelding, injured his right front leg and fell while making the turf-to-dirt transition on the 6 1/2 furlongs course. The horse directly behind him, La Sardane, a 5-year-old mare, collided and went down, but was not injured. Neither jockey, Martin Pedroza aboard Arms Runner and Ruben Fuentes on La Sardane, was hurt.
Arms Runner was euthanized. It marked the 23rd time a horse has been put down at the track since the end of December.
Presumably mindful that the latest incident will only intensify the scrutiny of house racing in general and Santa Anita Park in particular, the company owning the track issued a detailed statement on Sunday. Included was a rundown of “ground breaking reforms” announced the day prior to the track reopening.
“This is a gut-wrenching blow to everyone in racing, but our thoughts are with the connections of Arms Runner,” said the statement from The Stronach Group, a private Canadian-based company that acquired Santa Anita Park in 1998 for $126 million and owns six additional racetracks in the U.S.
The company noted that that the track had been “deemed by independent experts to be safe.” It added, “It speaks to the larger issue of doing all that we can to better understand and prevent such catastrophic injuries.”
A number of animal rights activists, including those demonstrating at the track on opening day, say nothing short of a complete ban on horse racing will be sufficient. They note that horse race wagering was legalized in California by voter referendum in 1933, leading to the opening of Santa Anita Park a year later. Their hope is to use the ballot box to get it outlawed in the state.
“Horses are dying. Why? For sports?” said Heather Hamza, while demonstrating on a grass patch outside the entrance of Gate 5. “We are seeing multiple horses killed at this track. It has to stop. We are gaining traction because of all these needless deaths. We want to put it to a vote and have a ballot measure. Let’s let the voters of California decide if racing should continue. We say no.”
The mid-day protest of about 50 demonstrators was organized by Horseracing Wrongs, an organization committed to exposing the death of horses as a means of eradicating horse racing. “We are calling for a unapologetic abolition of all horse racing,” said Hamza. She said her organization was planning additional demonstrations outside the track.