LOS ANGELES -- A third horse has died in nine days at Santa Anita when Kochees could not be saved by surgery on Sunday morning after sustaining an injury Saturday during the sixth race.
He was vanned off the course and a splint was applied. He stayed overnight in his stall in the hope of stabilizing his condition. Since the injury to his left front leg was not a compound fracture, surgery was an option. It would have ended his career but saved his life. However, when surgeons discovered the horse had lost blood flow to the leg the decision was made to euthanize.
Kochees, a 9-year-old gelding, was running in his 49th race, a $10,000 claiming race over 5 1/2 furlongs. He was pulled up by jockey Mario Gutierrez while leaving the far turn and entering the top of the stretch. His career started on Jan. 4, 2013, at Santa Anita and he had won 11 races.
It was the 26th death at Santa Anita in either racing or training since the meeting opened on Dec. 26. It was the third horse death for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
The Hall of Fame trainer had the first death on Dec. 30 when Psychedelicat, a 4-year-old gelding, was injured and later euthanized in a $16,000 claiming race. The fatalities turned into a national referendum on horse safety after the 18th death, that of Breeders' Cup winner Battle of Midway, who was injured in a timed workout on Feb. 23. Battle of Midway was also trained by Hollendorfer.
Hollendorfer, who was also part owner of Kochees, could not immediately be reached for comment.
It appeared that Santa Anita had turned the corner on equine fatalities for almost six weeks after Arms Runner was euthanized March 31 following a fall on the dirt portion of the downhill turn course. The next fatality was May 17 when Commander Coil was injured during a gallop on the training track. Spectacular Music, an unraced 3-year-old gelding, was pulled up on the backstretch on May 19 and vanned off after sustaining a pelvis injury. There was the hope the horse could be saved but the next morning his condition had worsened and he was euthanized.
The sport has spent the last two months in a desperate attempt to repair its image. Protesters have shown up sporadically at the track, including on Sunday.
Belinda Stronach, president and chief executive of the Stronach Group, proposed safety reforms at the company's two California tracks -- Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. It included a reduction in race-day Lasix and eliminated the use of the riding crop except in situations where safety was concerned.
She wanted to extend those rules to other TSG tracks in Florida and Maryland but so far has been unsuccessful. The reform measures did not have a direct correlation to the breakdowns but were designed to gain public confidence and demonstrate the sport is moving forward and is serious about horse and rider safety.
"We're going to be judged over the short term," Stronach told the Los Angeles Times in Baltimore before the Preakness Stakes on May 18. "All eyes are on us. And we will continue to be judged about how we continue safety reforms. That's definitely our goal to do everything we can when it comes to horse and rider welfare."
In addition, TSG, Churchill Downs Inc., the New York Racing Association and many independent tracks such as Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Keeneland, also announced a series of reform measures that included no Lasix for 2-year-olds starting next year, and all stakes races in 2021 will be run without race-day Lasix, including the Triple Crown races.
"The good news is there is an awakening in our industry that the status quo is not good enough," Stronach said. "I think the industry sees this as an opportunity ... to move our industry forward. There are some in our industry that do not want to see change. But, quite frankly, they need to wake up because change has to come or we may not have a sport in 10-15 years."
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