LOS ANGELES -- On the second day of Del Mar's summer season last year, the morning quiet was shattered by the sound of two horses crashing into each other, killing both instantly. That kind of freak accident is extremely rare, but when it happens in the midst of unprecedented attention on horse fatalities in Southern California, it is a crisis.
Del Mar decided to be pro-active and within hours called a news conference.
Joe Harper, chief executive of Del Mar, compared the track mishap to a wrong-way driver on a freeway. Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, promised necropsies, as is mandated by CHRB rules.
It was then that a bad situation got worse.
Instead of being transported to a UC Davis Animal Health and Safety Laboratory in San Bernardino, Charge A Bunch and Carson Valley were taken to a rendering plant near the El Sobrante Landfill in Corona, processed into animal by-products such as fertilizer and bone meal, and the remains sent to the landfill.
"I got a call first thing in the morning after the accident saying the horses never arrived," Arthur said. Del Mar got a call from the CHRB, because, by statute, it is the track's responsibility to get the bodies to the testing laboratory.
It took no time to discover that Stiles Animal Removal had made a mistake. According to a CHRB investigators report, "The owner of Stiles admitted that he forgot to inform the new driver of this requirement (to take to the state lab)."
Del Mar, which was credited for its fast action and transparency after the July 18 accident, has made no public comment about the deaths of the two horses since the day of the news conference.
According to Mike Marten, spokesman for the CHRB, he contacted Mac McBride, Del Mar media director, one day after the mistake was discovered and they spoke the day after that.
"Mac said that Del Mar would make an announcement as soon as a CHRB investigation was complete," Marten said.