Investigation finds no criminal wrongdoing at Santa Anita after string of horse deaths

Though 56 horses have died at Santa Anita since July 2018, an investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office found no criminal wrongdoing. (Cynthia Lum/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Though a string of horse deaths at Santa Anita Park has rocked the sport across the country in recent years, an investigation into the track cleared it of any criminal wrongdoing on Thursday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

A nine-month investigation led by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office “did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct” at the iconic Southern California track. The California Horse Racing Board is also investigating the track, and is expected to issue its report in January.

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

49 horses have died at the track during the 12-month period ending in June, per the Associated Press. Though horses are dying at a higher rate than the national average, the number is lower than several other years over the past decade and fewer than the deaths that have occured at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, which hosts the Kentucky Derby each year.

56 horses have died at Santa Anita since July 2018. 

“We thank District Attorney Lacey’s Office for their diligent work in this robust investigation into whether any conduct or conditions at Santa Anita Park affected the welfare of safety and horses,” the Stronach Group, which owns the park, said in a statement, via the Los Angeles Times. 

“We are all committed to the same thing — the highest level of equine safety and welfare — and we will continue to do everything possible to promote equine and rider health and safety. And we are gratified that the District Attorney’s report into the conduct and conditions at Santa Anita Park found no evidence of misconduct.”

The report offered 27 recommendations for safety improvements at Santa Anita. However many of those, per the Los Angeles Times, have either already been implemented at the track or were also recommended by the CHRB. 

While the report clears the track of any criminal wrongdoing, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) still has its doubts, and has called for the suspension of the sport completely until new safety measures are implemented across the country.

“It’s beyond credible that the district attorney doesn’t see that trainers who medicate horses obviously know they are injured and sore, so they should be criminally culpable if they then force them to race to their deaths,” PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo said in a statement, via the Associated Press. “No sane person can find it acceptable for horses to suffer and die in a sport.”

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