A 22nd horse died today at the historic Santa Anita Race Track. 22 horses in what has become a disastrous season. But this was different than the rest. This was different because a local news reporter and crew were there and documented it all. Our team from Fox11 LA. The morning didn’t start out that way at all. We had actually set up a story with Santa Anita looking to do a piece on measures taken to keep the horses safe. We were given exclusive access this morning to speak with top trainers, to show the practice runs on the track, to use a go-pro on a jockey to show the perspective of rider and horse in unison on the track.
What happened was much different. Much. Different.
In the middle of interviewing one of the most famous trainers in the business, the sirens wailed at Santa Anita. Our camera panned to the track. And right in the middle of that interview, right in the middle of the story on what’s being done to keep the horses safe, a horse broke both her front legs. She labored to breathe. She stood still. Other jockeys circled around. Green tarps were brought out to block the scene. The horse was eventually removed from the track. She had to be euthanized. She was number 22. Horse #22. Horse racing has been around for centuries. Like it or hate it, it has been a survivor. Horses have died in races before. Horses have died in practices before. But somehow this was different.
A colleague asked me if perhaps this was the industry’s “Black Fish” moment, referring to the reckoning that Seaworld faced a few years ago. I don’t know. But the difference today is that a local news crew and a local reporter were there today to see and document the entire thing. Despite best efforts to keep the horses safe, another went down.
Within three hours, Santa Anita issued what it called, “An Open Letter About the Future of Thoroughbred Racing.” In that document, track owners called the last weeks beyond heartbreaking and unacceptable and listed the most extensive changes coming to the business of horse racing in decades. Decades. The park itself called this a watershed moment, a seismic shift in how things will be done in the future. I know the trainers love their horses. I know they love this sport. Now comes the change. Horse 20 wasn’t enough to do that. Horse 21 wasn’t enough to do that. It was horse 22 that did that. Horse 22. The horse that a local news crew and reporter were there to see as she took her last steps.
I believe in the power of local news. Sometimes we shed the spotlight on a problem when we never expected to.
Today was one of those days.
A footnote: One day after we aired our footage, the Los Angeles County District Attorney announced her office has assigned investigators to work with the California Horse Racing Board to investigate the deaths
A second footnote: California Rep Judy Chu is now calling for a Congressional hearing into the horse racing deaths at Santa Anita and changes that need to be made across the horse racing industry
Here is a link to our news story. Caution. Some video is tough to watch but we felt it was important considering the national spotlight being shed on this issue.