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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Horse Deaths Are Down At Del Mar This Summer, But So Is Attendance

 August 27, 2019 at 10:46 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 The del Mar thoroughbred club is on track for one of its safety, safest years on record. But 30 horse deaths in six months at Santa Anita Park have cast a shadow over the entire industry. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman says, while safety has improved at del Mar, this summer attendance is down. Speaker 2: 00:25 [inaudible] Speaker 3: 00:25 it's been a slower than usual season for the del Mar thoroughbred club. Speaker 4: 00:28 Yeah, I knew we were going to be impacted obviously by, by the bad publicity Speaker 3: 00:32 club. CEO Joe Harper says attendance and revenue are down at the race track Speaker 4: 00:37 right now. We're off about, uh, about 8% in, in, on track attendance and uh, and about probably 14 to 50% in handle. Speaker 3: 00:46 The racetrack says in recent years, it has seen a small decline in attendance with betting revenue steady, but has been hit especially hard this year after deaths at Santa Anita. Speaker 4: 00:54 You know, there's obviously a, an impact. Uh, nobody wants to come out and think they're going to see a horse being killed or sobbing. So Speaker 3: 01:02 there's also another impact from the high number of deaths at Santa Anita. Fewer horses are available to raise. Speaker 4: 01:07 When San Anita and I had so much trouble, many of those horses over a couple hundred, maybe 300, went somewhere else, mainly back east. They didn't just turn around and come back when when we started Speaker 2: 01:24 [inaudible] Speaker 3: 01:24 less horses means fewer races. Speaker 2: 01:28 [inaudible] Speaker 4: 01:29 uh, normally we'd run an eight to nine races a day and we're running seven on Wednesdays and Thursdays and then trying to bring it up, uh, on the weekend. Speaker 3: 01:37 That means less people betting at the track. Del Mar thoroughbred club President Josh Rubenstein says they felt the drop. Um, our perse account is overdrawn. We are paying out purses, um, more than we are generating handle Speaker 2: 01:54 [inaudible] Speaker 4: 01:54 with less racers you obviously have less profit. So that's no surprise. Yeah. Speaker 5: 02:02 Let's say that the industry yes is on decline. Speaker 3: 02:04 Rick Baedeker is executive director of the California horse racing board, which regulates the sport in the state, Speaker 5: 02:09 but the game is healthy. Uh, and uh, but it's only going to stay healthy if, if the things that, uh, were talked about today are implemented and that, you know, the public is, is convinced. That is matter of fact, everything's being done that can be done to care for the race wars Speaker 3: 02:25 this year. There are new safety measures in place at del Mar. All horses are reviewed by state employed veterinarians before racing. Speaker 5: 02:32 This probably has been the most effective. We have a panel of experts, veterinarians and our safety stewards who scrutinize every entry every day. And um, they have, uh, prohibited horses from running Speaker 3: 02:46 through mid August. The state says more than 600 horses had been evaluated before racing and 20 had been polled. Speaker 5: 02:53 BW is simple. Just continue to reform the sport until it's absolutely the safest it can be. Speaker 3: 02:58 But rights activists, Speaker 6: 03:00 like Ellen Erickson say, if horses are racing, there will be deaths. There's no middle ground. Reform doesn't work. They've been trying to for years. What happened out at Santa Anita is not unusual. This happens every year at every race track, including del Mar. Horses are dying there for pure entertainment of the humans. Speaker 3: 03:21 Since the deaths at Santa I need at the California horse racing board has been given the power to stop racing at any time and are implementing new rules like no more whips during races Speaker 5: 03:29 because of this crisis and the kind of the media hysteria surrounding it, which is understandable. Uh, it's put more pressure on the board, but as a matter of fact, there are things that the board has been able to do because of this pressure, uh, that maybe it wouldn't have been able to do before because there would have been too much resistance to it. Speaker 3: 03:48 Harper says the industry is embracing change. Speaker 4: 03:50 I see a lot of that the old time guys saying, oh, well, I guess it's not business as usual. Um, you know, I'm glad I, I probably shouldn't brought, brought that horse down so I'm not gonna run him a little. Things like that, that they're telling me that they're, they're getting it, you know, that, that they know that, that this, this, this business has to change. Speaker 3: 04:11 With less than a week left of racing. There had been four horses that died after training in del Mar this summer. Thoroughbred club official say that's on track to be one of the safest summer meats ever. Speaker 1: 04:20 Joining me is KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman and Matt, welcome. Hi Maureen. Your report paints a sorry, picture of this del Mar season from your reporting. Is this decline all because of Santa Anita? Speaker 3: 04:33 If you talk to people at the race track, uh, the CEO, he definitely thinks that it's because of Santa Anita before the season. They expected a definite drop in their revenue and attendance and they're, they're seeing that, um, the public is obviously very aware about these deaths now, so they think that that's a big contributor to what's going on this season. Speaker 1: 04:51 So revenue and attendance were both down this year at del Mar. Is that a trend? I mean, have numbers been going down for the racing seasons here for a while or is it just this year? Speaker 3: 05:01 Right. So in, in recent years, the tracks says that they have definitely seen a small decline, uh, in attendance. Uh, and, but they say the betting and revenue has stayed pretty steady. Like they've sort of found a niche there. But this season it's down in, in double digit numbers for both in terms of percentage. Now they wouldn't give us a number of what that means when they say, you know, beddings down 14, 15%. They wouldn't give us a number of what that means, you know, is that $5 million? Is that $500,000 a but it's definitely down. And uh, so I mean they're basically seeing a much bigger impact from the news of Santa Anita than they would in a normal year. Speaker 1: 05:36 What does the executive director of the California horse racing board mean when he says the horse racing industry is in decline? Because then he also says the game is healthy. Speaker 3: 05:46 Right? And to be fair, I, I, I asked him the question if he thought the industry wasn't declined and he said yes. Now he cited like gambling at casinos as part of that decline. But when he says the game is healthy, he means that he said that it's, they, they've kind of like reached a niche where they can still make a lot of money there. It's still a billion dollar business in the state of California. So he said, he's saying the game is healthy in terms of they, they have their niche and they have people that go, um, but he definitely agrees that it is on the decline. Just last weekend there was an altercation between demonstrators for and against horseracing at del Mar. What can you tell us about that? Right, so the Damar thoroughbred club spokesman, he told me that basically there was, and this is a common scene this this year, is that they have, uh, these animal rights advocates out there protesting. Speaker 3: 06:30 They want an end to horseracing. Uh, but this year we're seeing for the first time, according to the pro, the animal rights, um, protestors that they're getting these counter protesters, people from the horse racing industry and lots of them. Um, and the spokesman for the Del Mar thoroughbred club tells me that there was an altercation, uh, a woman pushed a man to the ground. Uh, one of the pro horse protesters was pushed to the ground. Um, and police ended up coming out and citing that woman and arresting her. Um, I don't know specifics on what happened, but that's, that's pretty much what, what we have. So do the anti racing protesters, do they want horse racing to be declared illegal? I don't know about illegal, but they want it banned. I mean they want it gone. Um, I mean, whether that's making it illegal or not, they definitely want the California horse racing board to step in and say, hey, this is done. Speaker 3: 07:14 Shut it down. Um, or at least limit the number of races. But yeah, they want it gone. It seems that the very fact that horse racing supporters are out demonstrating at del Mar where there is horse racing going on indicates they may feel threatened. Is there a fear that horse racing could go the way of, let's say the Shamlou shows at seaworld? Right. And if you talk to the anti horse racing protesters, they say, look, look there, they're really their backs up against the wall. They're sending out these people to come out and confront us. I think, I mean I've, I've talked to a lot of these people, um, off, off camera, off Mike. They won't say that they're afraid of it going the way of the shampoo, like kind of like sea world. But you can tell that there's, there's definitely a fear and a lot of that fear too comes from, hey, we employ thousands of people that work here and what are we going to do if this has gone? Speaker 3: 07:59 I think that they, they sort of see the writing on the wall, but everybody just is this, right now it seems like they're trying to stop the bleeding and the del Mar thoroughbred club thinks that they can have a rebound season next year and they, I mean they think that right now the public's kind of under this Santa Anita hangover and once people get over this, they think that there'll be back back to business as usual. So there are good expectations for the fall season at del Mar this year. And it's sort of interesting how the fall and the summer season works. The summer season Damar says that they get a lot of those people who are just like casual fans, people who go to the track maybe once or twice a year, they not necessarily going for the horse racing. They don't, they go to just hang out with friends, have some drinks, plays a couple bets. Um, and those are the fans that Delmar's afraid of losing. Those are the people that they say see this news about deaths at Santa Anita. And they say, oh, that's horrible. I don't want to go to the races. And the fall season, they say the attendance is much lower and it's mainly people who are local. San Diego is people who really care about horseracing, so they don't foresee a big dip in attendance or a big dip in revenue the fall season like they have so far this summer season, I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt, thank you very much. Thanks, Maureen. Speaker 2: 09:04 Uh.

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Though the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club is on track for one of its safest years on record, officials say bad publicity resulting from dozens of horse deaths at Santa Anita earlier this year has kept casual fans away.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments