Update: June 30, 2019
In a reversal of its earlier decision, the New York Racing Association has announced that it’s now banning Thoroughbred trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from all its tracks—including Belmont Park, where he currently has horses stabled. PETA supported Santa Anita’s decision to ban Hollendorfer, who had six horses euthanized in the last six months, and urged New York and all racetracks to follow suit.
Update: June 25, 2019
The Stronach Group has taken the unprecedented step of banning Thoroughbred trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from Santa Anita Park and all other tracks owned by the group—a move that PETA backs. The decision follows the death of American Currency, the 30th horse to die at the track since December. The 4-year-old horse was euthanized after sustaining a fracture as he walked onto the track for training. Four of the 30 horses who’ve died at Santa Anita, including American Currency, and another two who died at Golden Gate Fields were in Hollendorfer’s care. Another horse in his barn, Gunmetal Gray, had to be retired after sustaining a fracture.
— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) June 22, 2019
As if six dead horses weren’t enough, Hollendorfer has been sanctioned by state officials at least 16 times for horse medications violations since 2005.
“[Hollendorfer’s record] has become increasingly challenging and does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand,” The Stronach Group said in the statement. “Effective immediately, Mr. Hollendorfer is no longer welcome to stable, race or train his horses at any of our facilities.”
Banning Hollendorfer from all Stronach tracks sends strong a message, indeed, but it should be just the first step. Other trainers with multiple violations and the blood of dead horses on their hands should go the same way, pronto.
“Enough is enough,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently said.
More progress has been made, as the California Horse Racing Board recently passed two important PETA-backed regulations:
- Two weeks of veterinary records must accompany horses who are shipped to California. Without the new rule, horses could be injured in Kentucky or Texas and no one in California would know that they’re vulnerable to broken bones or other injuries.
- Horses will no longer be permitted to train or race for 30 days after receiving shockwave therapy. This painful treatment for leg injuries deadens pain, meaning that horses receiving it don’t show signs of injury. Shockwave therapy should be banned, but at least injured horses will be prevented from training and racing on legs that they can’t feel.
We’re also working with Social Compassion in Legislation, the California Horse Racing Board, and California legislators to have more rules and legislation enacted in order to get to zero fatalities. It doesn’t matter that Santa Anita’s 2018–19 racing season has come to a close—many of the 30 deaths at the track occurred because of injuries sustained during training, not racing. The bottom line is, trainers with multiple violations must not be licensed in California, and racing at all tracks in the state should cease until the district attorney’s office completes its investigation. Ending racing would be the better option, but nothing less than these conditions is acceptable.
PETA is now working to ensure that other tracks adopt the same (and even stronger) rules. Follow us on Twitter to stay up to date, and click here to help us get the drugs out of horse racing.
Update: May 30, 2019
PETA and our supporters demanded change, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom listened! Today, he announced support for legislation that—among other lifesaving changes championed by PETA—authorizes the California Horse Racing Board to suspend horse-racing licenses if the lives of horses or riders are in jeopardy.
Thanks to Governor @GavinNewsom for supporting my bill to improve horse racing safety. We'll continue pushing forward to ensure the health and safety of horses and riders is paramount. #SB469https://t.co/Y6ap0J2ZXV
— Bill Dodd (@BillDoddCA) May 30, 2019
“The recent horse fatalities in California are unacceptable,” Newsom said in a news release. “We must hold the horse racing industry to account. If we can regulate horse race meets, we should have the authority to suspend licenses when animal or human welfare is at risk.”
In addition to the new legislation, the governor is also supporting new lifesaving rules that PETA has backed. They require trainers to maintain records of all veterinary medications given to, treatments for, and procedures performed on a horse in their care. Bisphosphonates—a dangerous class of drugs for horses—would be outlawed, and the use of anti-inflammatory medications that keep injured horses running when they should be recuperating will be restricted.
Beginning on July 1, new California regulations will also ban whipping, greatly expand out-of-competition testing, and provide a means for the board to prosecute offenders who abuse prescribed medications.
Update: May 29, 2019
While rules put in place by Santa Anita racetrack are a huge improvement—there were no deaths for 6 weeks—more work needs to be done following the death of a 26th horse at the track since December.
26th horse death at California's Santa Anita track prompts calls for a halt to racing https://t.co/HwLzgUkG4E
— WAVY TV 10 (@WAVY_News) May 28, 2019
PETA and Social Compassion in Legislation (SCIL) are working with state officials and track owners on new regulations that will strengthen protections for horses. And following the death of 9-year-old Kochees last Sunday, PETA and SCIL have called for a suspension of all racing in California. Now, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has joined us.
But the issue is much larger than Santa Anita, and PETA is calling for a nationwide suspension of racing until other tracks stop dragging their feet on reform.
While national attention has been focused on racing deaths at Santa Anita, horses have continued to die at tracks across the country.
In New York alone, where the Belmont Stakes will soon be held, 15 Thoroughbreds have died while racing or training so far in 2019—adding to the total of more than 140 Thoroughbred deaths during racing and training in the last two years.
Just last week, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Congrats Gal collapsed just 100 yards beyond the finish line after the eighth race of the day. The death came the day before the second race of the Triple Crown series. Neither New York nor any other state has enacted the rules that The Stronach Group and the California Horse Racing Board have put in place and continue to strengthen.
There is no excuse for this inaction. PETA will continue to push for the end of cruelty in horse racing while supporting a suspension of racing nationwide until every racing jurisdiction matches or surpasses the actions taken by California.
Trainers, owners, and veterinarians have recklessly controlled racing and imperiled horses for too long, and those days must come to an end.
Update: April 12, 2019
PETA demanded an investigation into California horse-racing practices, and we’re getting one. State legislators have announced that they will hold a joint oversight hearing next month that will discuss what the industry and regulators need to do to end the deaths of horses. According to Assembly Member Adam Gray, “This hearing will give the committees an opportunity to conduct a thorough review of the industry’s safety track record, and highlight new and potentially necessary reforms to improve safe racing conditions.” Lawmakers have also introduced Senate Bill 469, which would, among other reforms, give racing board directors the power to close a track temporarily to protect horses—something they should have done after the first horse died.
Update: March 31, 2019
Following yet another death of a horse at Santa Anita Race Track, PETA is calling on California Governor Gavin Newsom to form an independent panel to investigate the training and veterinary practices in California racing.
Another horse has died at Santa Anita Race Track, marking the 23rd death since December 26th.
— PETA (@peta) April 1, 2019
Update: March 19, 2019
After discussions with PETA, followed by negotiations with Thoroughbred owners in California, the Santa Anita Park racetrack has finalized its ban on some of the worst abuses in racing, including the following:
- All whipping, making it the first racetrack in the world to end the beating of Thoroughbreds in training and racing
- The injection of corticosteroids into horses’ joints, which breaks them down and masks pain
- Painful shockwave therapy, which masks pain
- The use of anabolic steroids
- The administration of medications that aren’t prescribed for a specific condition, such as the use of thyroid medication for horses who don’t have thyroid conditions, which is a practice that PETA exposed in our video investigation of trainer Steve Asmussen.
Significantly, the rules regarding drugs have been changed so that horses can no longer be dosed with as many medications in the days before a race. This acknowledges a problem that PETA has documented and long protested—that injured horses are medicated to mask their injuries and then forced to run, leading to broken bones. Now, trainers won’t be able to keep veterinary records secret, and there will be more inspections of horses, random unannounced drug testing for horses who aren’t racing, and other improvements.
We have pushed for a complete ban on the drug Lasix, a diuretic that causes dehydration and electrolyte loss, which is given to horses so that they will urinate more frequently and, as a result, be lighter and able to run faster. In the U.S. and Canada—but nowhere else in the world—it’s administered to nearly all horses on the days that they race. Initially, Santa Anita banned the drug completely but then changed it to a phase-out plan beginning in 2020, with a reduction in the dose allowed until then. Trainers and horse owners are clinging tightly to this abusive practice, even as they’ve had to agree to end others.
These new rules are the first significant improvements in the treatment of horses in more than a generation. PETA will be watching closely to ensure that they’re implemented and enforced. We’ll also be monitoring the Los Angeles County district attorney who, at our request, has launched an investigation into the trainers of the horses who have died at the track. If the trainers have violated anti-cruelty laws, they must be prosecuted.
Update: March 15, 2019
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s (DA) office has notified PETA that it’s launched an investigation into the trainers and veterinarians who may have been involved in the deaths of 22 horses at Santa Anita racetrack since December.
The investigation follows the death of filly Princess Lili B—after she broke both front legs yesterday morning—and a massive PETA protest that took place outside the DA’s office. It also comes 11 years after a filly named Eight Belles broke both her front legs in a tragic incident that kicked off PETA’s involvement in racing reforms.
PETA first requested that the DA order an investigation on March 1, citing evidence from thousands of necropsies of Thoroughbreds in California showing that bone breaks in horses used for racing predominantly occur at the site of previous injuries. We believe that medications given to the horses may have masked injuries and led to their broken bones and deaths.
Eight Belles broke both front legs just after crossing the finish line in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. Her horrifying and public death on national television prompted PETA to campaign against the cruelty faced by horses used for racing. PETA’s 2014 investigation of trainer Steve Asmussen revealed that all the horses in his care were routinely medicated with everything from sedatives to thyroid medication—and its findings resulted in changes to medication regulations in New York State.
Following the latest death, Santa Anita has become the first track in the U.S. to ban race-day medications, whipping, and cruel practices used to mask pain in horses’ legs—including administering shockwave therapy and injecting joints with corticosteroids, both of which are standard practices at tracks around the country.
PETA urges all tracks in the U.S. to stop the abuse and carnage and enact the types of changes made by Santa Anita racetrack—or get out of the business.
Update: March 14, 2019
Mere hours after the 22nd horse to die since December 26, 2018, at the Santa Anita racetrack was euthanized, the track announced new, historic racing rules: banning all race-day medications, including Lasix, and banning the use of the whip, among other actions.
We thank Santa Anita for standing up to all the trainers, veterinarians, and owners who have used any means—from the whip to the hypodermic syringe—to force injured or unfit horses to run.
This is a watershed moment for racing, and we urge every track to recognize that the future is now and to follow suit. This groundbreaking plan, which we’ve pushed for, will not bring back the 22 horses who have died, but it will prevent the deaths of many more and will set a new standard for racing that means less suffering for Thoroughbreds at this track.
Update: March 14, 2019
Princess Lili B was euthanized after she broke down during “training” this morning at the Santa Anita racetrack, breaking both of her front legs. She was just 3 years old. She is the 22nd horse to die at Santa Anita since December 26, 2018.
PETA has repeatedly called for a criminal investigation into the trainers who may have driven these abused horses to an early grave. And although Santa Anita announced its closure on March 5, it reopened on March 11 (although at PETA’s urging, the racetrack has suspended racing). Had District Attorney (DA) Jackie Lacey and the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) done their jobs, perhaps Princess Lili B’s life could have been spared. But it’s not too late to do something. DA Lacey must do the following:
- Stop passing off responsibility to the CHRB.
- Request an immediate investigation by law-enforcement officers into the recent deaths of 22 horses.
- Pledge to prosecute any trainers or veterinarians whose actions violated California’s cruelty-to-animals law and caused any of the deaths.
PETA supporters echoed this sentiment on Thursday during a spirited protest outside of DA Lacey’s office:
Update: March 5, 2019
On Saturday, after the 20th horse died at Santa Anita racetrack, PETA called on Governor Newsom to close the track. Today, following the death of yet another horse, Santa Anita has stated that it is closing until further notice. This was the right thing to do. The track should remain closed until the California Horse Racing Board dumps the drugs entirely, or injured horses whose soreness is masked by legally allowed medication will continue to sustain shattered bones. PETA renews its call for a criminal investigation into the trainers and veterinarians who may have put injured horses on the track, leading to their deaths.
Update: March 2, 2019
Four-year-old filly Eskenforadrink is the 20th horse to die at Santa Anita racetrack in the past two months. Join PETA in calling for the closure of the track.
BREAKING NEWS: 4-year-old filly Eskenforadrink is the 20th horse to die at Santa Anita racetrack in the past two months. PETA's statement: pic.twitter.com/av2LJOsHkY
— PETA (@peta) March 3, 2019
Originally posted on March 1, 2019:
Over the course of just eight weeks, 19 Thoroughbred horses died at the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, California. We know why breakdowns occur. Now, officials must take action.
19 horse deaths reported at Santa Anita racetrack since Dec. 2018 https://t.co/Mnk4HS6x3D
— FOX 29 (@FOX29philly) February 28, 2019
PETA has called on the Los Angeles County district attorney to launch an investigation into the trainers and their treatment of the horses before the animals’ bones shattered. The horses may have had undisclosed injuries that were masked by medications commonly administered to keep lame and unfit horses training and competing.
PETA is also calling on the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) to investigate the trainers of all the horses who died and review all veterinary records.
If 19 football players died during one season, you can bet that the NFL would be under serious scrutiny.
In California, every horse who dies on the track is necropsied—and the results of thousands of these procedures show that in almost all cases, the fatal breaks occurred where there was already an injury.
In a presentation to The Jockey Club, CHRB Equine Medical Director Dr. Rick Arthur stated that “90 percent of all horses suffering fatal musculoskeletal injuries racing or training have pre-existing pathology—a prior injury—at the site of their fatal injury.”
He went on to say, “Racing fatality rates in the U.S. are two- to three-times higher than other major racing countries that don’t allow phenylbutazone and other drugs. My international colleagues have no doubt our medication policies, especially in phenylbutazone, are the cause of this disparity. I’m not convinced it is that simple, but there is no question medication regulation is the most glaring difference between U.S. and other major racing countries.”
Learn more about abuse in horseracing on The PETA Podcast:
A number of medications are allowed in the week before a race, and most horses are injected with the powerful anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone 24 hours before racing—supposedly to prevent swelling, but the drug also masks pain. Additionally, traces of some painkillers and sedatives, such as acepromazine and lidocaine, are allowed to be in the horses’ systems on race days in California. For this reason, it’s likely that injuries that can turn life-threatening on the track are missed during prerace examinations, because the horse isn’t feeling or showing the pain of an injury and the track veterinarian doesn’t examine trainers’ records.
If trainers know that horses are sore or injured, and they’re giving them painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sedatives to keep them running when they should be recuperating, the trainers are culpable in these deaths.
On average, three horses die every day on racetracks in the U.S.—here’s what you can do:
Using PETA’s action form, urge your congressional representatives to support the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would impose stricter regulations on drug use in racing and help protect horses from abuse.
Note: PETA supports animal rights, opposes all forms of animal exploitation, and informs the public on those issues. It does not directly or indirectly participate or intervene in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office or any political party.