SA Task Force says no criminal wrongdoing but makes multiple recommendations

Posted: Dec. 19, 2019

An investigation into the deaths of horses at Santa Anita Park earlier this year by the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey found no criminal wrongdoing but issued more than 24 recommendations on ways to improve safety at California racetracks.

A release from the District Attorney’s Office said it formed a task force of experienced deputy district attorneys and sworn peace officers to investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park.

“Horse racing has inherent risks but is a legally sanctioned sport in California,” Lacey said. “Greater precautions are needed to enhance safety and protect both horses and their riders.”

“After a thorough investigation and review of the evidence, the District Attorney’s Task Force did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park,” the report states.

According to the report, the number of horse deaths at Santa Anita over the past decade have ranged from a high of 71 in fiscal 2011-12 to a low of 37 in fiscal 2010-11. There were 49 horse deaths in fiscal 2018-19.

The District Attorney’s Office said it lacks legal jurisdiction to regulate the horseracing industry, but that Lacey plans to sponsor legislation to create transparency of veterinary records for horses training and racing on California tracks.

In the report, Lacey called for the California horse racing industry and regulators to coordinate their efforts and formalize strategic safety plans aimed at reducing horse deaths. She also recommended best practices aimed at reducing horse fatalities at Santa Anita Park and other racetracks in California.

The recommendations follow:

  • Urging the California Horse Racing Board to prepare an annual racing fatality report that includes all equine fatalities at California racetracks and identifies contributing factors.
  • Mandating that all racing and training fatalities undergo thorough investigations conducted by sworn CHRB investigators that include obtaining necropsy, training and veterinary records as well as interviewing people associated with the training, treatment and care of the fatally injured horse.
  • Evaluating the need to enhance penalties for CHRB violations of rules and regulations to reflect the severity of some violations and to serve as an effective future deterrent.
  • Establishing a tip line to encourage the reporting of suspected animal cruelty, horses at risk or illegal practices.

The full task force report is available here.

(Photo courtesy of Santa Anita Park)