2 Horses Die In 'Freak Collision' During Training At Del Mar Racetrack
UPDATED: 7:15 a.m., July 19, 2019:
Two horses died early Thursday after a "freak collision" during morning warm-ups at the Del Mar race track, according to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
Both horses were killed on impact after colliding with each other around 6:45 a.m. on Del Mar's main track. One of the jockeys was taken to the hospital but is expected to be okay, officials said.
The two horses, 3-year-old Carson Valley and 2-year-old Charge a Bunch, collided after Charge a Bunch unseated jockey Geovanni Franco, then turned sharply and ran in the wrong direction before colliding with Carson Valley, who was training alongside two other horses, according to a statement from the race track.
Franco and the other two horses were uninjured in the collision, track spokesman Dan Smith said.
The jockey riding Carson Valley, Assael Espinoza, complained of pain in his lower back and underwent a CAT scan at a local hospital. Brian Beach, Espinoza's agent, later confirmed on Twitter that the jockey avoided serious injury and suffered only a bruised lower back.
Track officials say protocol was followed and no one is to blame for the accident. Officials with the California Horse Racing Board said a preliminary examination shows the horses' necks were broken in the collision.
California Horse Racing Board Medical Director Dr. Rick Arthur said at the afternoon news conference the two horses sustained cervical fractures and died on the track.
In an afternoon news conference regarding the deaths, Arthur and DMTC CEO Joe Harper called the collision extremely rare and compared it to a wrong-way driver on an interstate highway. Harper said the track's safety protocols were followed correctly and there was no outside influence on the horses to make them collide.
Arthur said the accident was also a byproduct of the horses' young ages. Young horses, much like teenagers and young adults, "do silly things, whether you're on the race track or whether you're on the ranch," Arthur said.
Carson Valley was trained by Bob Baffert and Charge a Bunch was trained by Carla Gaines.
"This was a very unfortunate accident & is a shock to everyone in the barn. We work every day to take the best care of our horses but sometimes freak accidents occur that are beyond anyone's control. This is one of those times & we're deeply saddened for all involved." - Baffert— Del Mar Racetrack (@DelMarRacing) July 18, 2019
"This was a very unfortunate accident and is shock to everyone in the barn," the tweet quoted Baffert saying. "We work every day to take the best care of our horses but sometimes freak accidents occur that are beyond anyone's control."
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Gaines said she had not experienced a similar training accident in more than 30 years of training race horses.
"Our whole barn is still in shock and grieving for the loss of the horses and my heart goes out to both of their owners, Bob and his team," Gaines said.
Del Mar's summer racing season opened Wednesday amid concerns over a high number of horse deaths earlier this year at Santa Anita Park in Los Angeles. In 2018, 9 horses died after racing or training in Del Mar, according to the California Horse Racing Board. In 2017, 12 horses were lost and 23 died in 2016.
Since 2016, Del Mar has been rated one of the safest horse racing venues in the U.S., tallying only 0.79 horse deaths per 1,000 starts last year, according to the Jockey Club Equine Injury Database. According to the DMTC, the national average was 1.68 among tracks that reported their fatal injuries.
Regardless, animal rights activists pounced on Thursday's accident as evidence that horse racing is deadly no matter where it takes place. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on California horse racing tracks to release records of horses who have gotten loose on the track as well as a full investigation by the CHRB.
"Saying that deaths are inevitable in racing is like saying a swim team can't compete without drowning," said PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo in a statement. "If racing can't be done without horses dying, it shouldn't be done at all."
According to Arthur, the horses are expected to undergo necropsies at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory in San Bernardino to establish a clearer cause of death. The necropsies are in accordance with standard operating procedures for the state and the CHRB after a race horse's death.