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PETA sides with Santa Anita on new horse racing safety rules

John Cherwa, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Horse Racing

LOS ANGELES -- Santa Anita has found itself on the good side of the spotlight on Tuesday when a leading animal rights group called on the country to adopt safety reforms currently being implemented in California.

It comes two days after Santa Anita had its third horse death in nine days, which follows almost six weeks of racing and training without a fatality.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called for the suspension of racing nationwide until reforms similar to those in place at Santa Anita and soon other California tracks are put in place. Guillermo singled out New York as having 15 horses die this year either racing or training.

She said there have been 148 fatalities in New York over the past two years, which includes the three main New York Racing Association tracks plus smaller Finger Lakes. The calculation also includes fatalities that were non-exercise induced, but PETA concluded were caused by something that happened on the track.

An argument can be made that New York has had a run of safe racing. So far this year, there has been one racing death at Aqueduct and two at Belmont, which is in stark contrast to 15 racing fatalities at Santa Anita.

The remaining New York fatalities were in training, especially at Belmont (nine deaths), which is a heavily used year-around training facility. Last year, there were 18 racing deaths at the three main New York tracks out of 14,987 starts.

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"NYRA has implemented extensive reforms and made significant investments in recent years to modernize track surface analysis, upgrade facilities and provide our veterinary team with the independent authority and resources required to properly monitor thoroughbred health and welfare," said Pat McKenna, NYRA director of communications. "These efforts have yielded meaningful results and led to demonstrably safer racing operations at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Racecourse."

PETA's announcement is meant to coincide with the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown, which will be held a week from Saturday.

"Neither New York nor any other state has enacted the rules that the Stronach Group and the California Horse Racing Board have out in place and continue to strengthen," Guillermo said. "There is no excuse for this inaction."

It's a very unusual alliance to have a racing company and an animal rights group on seemingly the same side. When Belinda Stronach, chief executive and president of the Stronach Group, announced a series of safety reforms, PETA was part of the announcement.

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