Los Al Quarter Horse Racing License On Probation For Ten Days Due To Concerns About Equine Deaths - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Los Al Quarter Horse Racing License On Probation For Ten Days Due To Concerns About Equine Deaths

The field breaks from the gate at Los Alamitos

Los Alamitos escaped a shutdown but did see its racing license placed on probation for 10 days during an emergency meeting of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) on July 10. The CHRB notified commissioners and the public of an emergency meeting roughly 24 hours earlier in response to what executive director Scott Chaney described as a spike in equine fatalities.

Los Alamitos just concluded its daytime Thoroughbred meet this week but is scheduled to continue night cards for Quarter Horses until late December.

Discussion amongst commissioners and representatives of Los Alamitos seemed to suggest that an interpretation of whether or not fatality numbers are above average probably varies depending upon the timeframe examined. Chaney pointed out that between Jan. 1 and July 5 of this year there had been 14 racing deaths and five training deaths, compared with five racing deaths and four training deaths during the same period in 2019 — demonstrating nearly a three-fold increase in racing deaths.

When the statistics are examined by the fiscal year however, which in California runs July 1 to June 30, the track seemed more consistent. The calendar year of 2019 had been a good one for Los Alamitos, according to track veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Fitzgerald, but a cluster in the calendar year 2020 brought the fiscal year's figures even with 2018-19.

Chaney also drew attention to what he considered a high number of non-racing/training deaths, which totaled 21 for this year. These “other” causes of death can include colic, respiratory illness, neurologic illness, and musculoskeletal injuries that happen in the barn area.

Drew Couto, Los Alamitos Quarter Horse Racing Association General Counsel, said that fiscal year over fiscal year, combined racing/training deaths have been going down for some time.

“We've seen a prolonged history at Los Alamitos, since 2008 of decreasing racing and training fatalities,” said Couto.

Couto was also asked by commissioners what the track had in mind to improve its numbers. Couto pointed to the fatality review program performed by officials but said Los Alamitos officials had not come up with a plan of action for how to reduce non-racing/training deaths, given the short notice of the meeting.

For most commissioners, that answer seemed to be inadequate. They turned to Fitzgerald and CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur for more details on what could be causing the issue.

For his part, Arthur did not support Chaney's statement that action should be taken against the track's license status; in the course of studying racing and training fatalities, Arthur said it's not uncommon to see numbers “ebb and flow”; in some cases, the reasons for that are clear, while in others they aren't. CHRB officials surveyed by Arthur expressed confidence in the safety of the racing surface and in Fitzgerald's work, although she is the lone veterinarian responsible for performing pre-race examinations for the 50 to 60 horses entered each day.

Fitzgerald said she actually believes being the only one to see the runners based at Los Alamitos before each race is a good thing. Having a larger team might mean she would see a horse before one race, and not again for a few more starts, so she would be less likely to notice small changes that can be so crucial to catching underlying injury.

She also said she gets good support from the racing office, which flags horses for additional scrutiny based on changes in class, time off a lay-off and other factors.

Arthur said he didn't believe there was a clear pattern of any one risk factor in any of the fatalities, except that veterinarians and trainers at Los Alamitos seemed to be more likely to rely on greater numbers of intra-articular corticosteroid injections, particularly of cortisone. Arthur is hopeful that a “long overdue” rule to require continuing education for trainers could alleviate some of the “questionable training and horse management” decisions he has seen, though he pointed out those issues are not limited to Los Alamitos.

Commissioners agreed they wanted to see a report from track officials outlining areas of equine health and welfare concerns and planned actions for resolution. They discussed whether to stop racing at the track while such a report could be prepared or whether to simply put the track's license on probation. According to CHRB chairman Dr. Greg Ferraro, this would mean at the end of the ten-day period the commissioners could suspend racing if they aren't satisfied with the report.

Ultimately, most commissioners stated they were hesitant to halt racing without further information about the problem. The final vote was 5-1 for a 10-day probationary period and report (the lone 'no' vote coming from commissioner Wendy Mitchell. The CHRB will hold another emergency meeting July 20 to hear the track's report.

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