ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Investigators with a prosecutors’ office have been assigned to help look into 22 recent horse deaths at Santa Anita, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said Friday.
The investigators will work with the California Horse Racing Board as it probes the deaths, said district attorney’s spokesman Greg Risling said.
He declined to say what sparked his office’s involvement and when the decision was made.
The most recent horse death happened Thursday, when a local news station, KTTV-TV, captured video of a 3-year-old named Princess Lili B breaking down just past the finish line after a half-mile workout. That marked the 22nd death at the track since the winter meet began Dec. 26.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has been calling on the district attorney’s office to investigate since March 1 and protested outside the prosecutors’ office following Thursday’s death.
PETA said in a statement that it began campaigning against cruelty in horse racing in 2008, when a horse broke both front legs after crossing the finish line at the Kentucky Derby.
“Eleven years of broken bones and thousands upon thousands of thoroughbred deaths have finally resulted in a criminal investigation into trainers,” Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s senior vice president, said in a statement. “The DA’s office is doing the right thing.”
Santa Anita spokesman Mike Willman said in a statement that the track welcomes the district attorney’s “sincere interest in solving these very serious issues that we’ve experienced over the past two months.”
He also pointed to an announcement Thursday by the track’s owner, The Stronach Group, that Santa Anita will ban the use of medication and whips on racing days, making it the first racetrack in the nation to impose such restrictions.
“What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking,” said Belinda Stronach, chairperson and president of The Stronach Group. “The sport of horse racing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernized. If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards.
PETA is calling on “all tracks in the U.S. to stop the abuse and carnage and enact the changes made by Santa Anita racetrack — or get out of the business.”
Meanwhile California Rep. Judy Chu, whose district includes the racetrack, said Friday that she was outraged by the horse deaths and that the track should be closed “until we know the horses are safe.”
She said she was calling on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate and hold a hearing on the treatment of horses at Santa Anita and other racetracks.
Santa Anita’s changes came after a bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, was introduced in Congress on Thursday by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-New York), and Rep. Andy Barr (R-Kentucky).
The bill would create a private, independent authority to develop and administer a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program for the sport.