LOS ANGELES -- Less than two weeks before the start of perhaps the most important meeting in Santa Anita's history, there was a fatality during training Monday at the Arcadia facility.
Zeke, a 4-year-old gelding for trainer Dean Pederson, was working on the training track, considered to be the safest surface at Santa Anita, when he was pulled up and was eventually diagnosed with a pelvic fracture. Veterinarians tried to save the horse but at 11 p.m. decided that euthanasia was the best option.
Zeke last ran on Aug. 29 at Del Mar, where he finished fifth in a claiming race. He was claimed out of that race by Pederson for owners Tom Acker, Rudy Lapera, Scott Knight, Alan McKean and Jason Ehrlicher for $25,000.
Before Monday's fatality, the track had 1,034 workouts without incident. The track opened for training after Del Mar closed and while racing moved to Los Alamitos.
"Everyone at Santa Anita and throughout The Stronach Group is devastated by the loss," said Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinarian for The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita. "We are carefully reviewing what factors could have contributed to Zeke's injury. Santa Anita will continue to work closely with the California Horse Racing Board and will continue to be transparent with our stakeholders and all of our constituents, including the public, as more facts come in.
"Zeke will undergo a necropsy run by the University of California-Davis' school of veterinarian medicine, as is mandatory for all on-track accidents. The accident and the necropsy report will be reviewed by the (CHRB) team to learn what, if anything, could have been done to have prevented the accident."
Santa Anita is under unprecedented scrutiny over safety concerns after 30 fatalities in the track's winter-spring meeting. The track has implemented several measures to try and solve the mystery of why so many horses have died.
New medical protocols were put in place to make sure horses were as sound as possible before running. In addition, Santa Anita tore up its track in its offseason to install a new drainage system, should that have been a problem.
In addition, Aidan Butler has been named the new acting vice-president of California racing for the Stronach Group replacing Tim Ritvo, who ran the track for the past two years. Butler does not report to Ritvo, who remains with TSG as chief operating officer.
"We're going to make sure this is the safest meet it could possibly be," Butler told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. "... The business model in my eyes, and the Stronach Group eyes, is second fiddle to the safety of running it right. There is no substitute for that."
Last week TSG named veteran race track executive Craig Fravel as chief executive officer for racing seemingly taking many of the roles held by Ritvo. Fravel, currently the chief executive of the Breeders' Cup, will join TSG after the Breeders' Cup is held Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita.
The sport is currently in a long stretch of safe racing. It has been 14 weeks since a horse has died racing. Zeke's is the fifth training death in Southern California since Santa Anita's closing day on June 23. Four horses died during training during Del Mar's seven-week meeting. Two of the deaths came the day after opening day when a horse threw his rider and ran head first into another horse killing both instantly, considered a freak accident.
Santa Anita opens on Friday, Sept. 27.
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