Del Mar Fall Racing Season Kicks Off After Santa Anita Deaths
Del Mar's fall horse racing season is starting off as with the summer season — in the shadow of horse deaths at Santa Anita Park near Los Angeles.
The latest came last week, this time in front of a national audience during a race at the Breeders Cup. Mongolian Groom was the 37th horse death at the Santa Anita track in less than a year — sparking renewed calls to stop horse racing there.
The California Horse Racing Board launched an investigation into Santa Anita and a report is expected in December.
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO Joe Harper said the industry has done a lot to minimize horse deaths, but they are a part of racing.
"We have to now make everyone understand that we’re never going to hit zero — just not going to happen," he said.
Del Mar implemented several new safety measures before it’s summer racing season, including medication restrictions and closer monitoring of practices. As a result, the track had one of its safest seasons on record with four-horse deaths. That's down from a high of 23 in 2016 and nine in 2018.
For some, safety improvements are not cutting it.
"I have no kudos for any racetrack — not even Del Mar," said Ellen Ericksen, an independent animal rights activist who regularly protests the horse races in Del Mar. She said one death is too many.
"It’s like Russian roulette," Ericksen said. "Every time that horse is shoved into the starting gate and that gate opens, I almost get sick."
Ericksen said she and others will be back again this season and every other until horse racing is stopped.
"It’s not going to happen in six months, but it is going to happen in the next few years," she said.
Harper said revenue was down in the summer and he expects the shorter fall season — which runs through Dec. 1 — to see some impact but still be successful.
"It’s good," Harper said of the fall meet. "It’s profitable."