Gelding euthanized after injury at Santa Anita Park; 40th horse death reported

A 5-year-old gelding has been euthanized after fracturing his right front ankle in a race at Santa Anita Park, the 40th horse
death at the Arcadia track since December 2018.

Harliss finished seventh in a field of eight in the seventh race Friday, "was unsaddled nearing the clubhouse turn and vanned off,'' according to Santa Anita racing information. He was euthanized under the recommendation of the attending veterinarian.

Harliss was third both a quarter-mile and three-eighths of a mile in the 5 1/2-furlong race on Santa Anita's turf course, then dropped to fourth entering the stretch. He was coming off the lone victory in his 12-race career, finishing first in a 5 1/2-furlong race on Los Alamitos Race Course on Dec. 6. 

Related: Protest planned after horse dies at Santa Anita racetrack on New Year’s Day

L.A. prosecutors find no criminal liability in horse deaths at Santa Anita

Harliss was trained by Val Brinkerhoff. His career earnings were $23,026. A necropsy will be performed as required by the California Horse Racing Board.

The death was the second among the 705 horses who have raced at Santa Anita's winter/spring meeting, which began Dec. 28. The 4-year-old gelding Golden Birthday sustained a hind pastern fracture with sesamoid involvement in a mile-and-and-eighth race on the turf course New Year's Day and was euthanized upon the recommendation of veterinarians.

Truest Reward, a 3-year-old gelding, fractured his left shoulder on the training track at Santa Anita the morning of Dec. 26, two days before the start of the winter meet. The training track was closed to workouts but open for jogging and galloping.

Officials with Santa Anita Park or its parent company, The Stronach Group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest death.

The group Horseracing Wrongs, which advocates for a nationwide ban on horse racing, will have demonstrators at Santa Anita on Sunday. Santa Anita, and the sport in general, have faced increasing pressure from animal-rights activists and elected officials since the deaths at Santa Anita started garnering media attention in early 2019.

The California Horse Racing Board is set to issue a report soon on the deaths. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office concluded Dec. 19 that there was no criminal wrongdoing connected to the deaths, but offered a series of recommendations aimed at improving safety at racetracks in California.

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

The district attorney called on state regulators to develop safety enhancements to reduce horse deaths, including possible enhanced penalties for rules violations, establishment of a tip line for people to report violations or animal cruelty allegations and mandated inspections of racing and training facilities, and reviews of necropsy and veterinary records of horses that have died.

The report also made recommendations aimed at identifying pre-existing conditions in horses that could lead to breakdowns, establishing track-maintenance protocols -- including special measures during rain or extreme weather conditions, and creation of "safety codes of conduct'' for owners, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians and others who care for horses.

The report noted that officials at Santa Anita have implemented a series of safety-improvement measures that ``have reduced the number of fatal racing and training incidents.''

Santa Anita recently debuted a PET Scan machine to provide imaging of the fetlock or ankle joint -- the most common area for injuries to occur in thoroughbreds -- without horses having to undergo anesthesia, and said it will help to diagnose pre-existing conditions.

"This state-of-the-art technology reflects a new standard of care within Thoroughbred racing -- a standard that puts the health and safety of horses and riders first,'' said Belinda Stronach, The Stronach Group's chairman and president.