08/25/2016 7:50PM

Animal activists express concern over recent fatalities at Del Mar


DEL MAR, Calif. - A small group of animal rights activists urged the California Horse Racing Board on Thursday to take further action to secure safer racing at Del Mar in light of a series of fatal injuries at the summer meeting.

Through Wednesday, 16 horses have been euthanized in racing or training incidents this summer. The meeting began on July 15. By comparison, there were nine fatalities at the 2015 summer meeting.

The meeting was attended by approximately eight activists, though not all spoke before the board. Some demanded that racing cease at Del Mar to investigate the deaths. The group attracted four local television stations to the meeting.

Lori Saldana, a former member of the California Assembly from San Diego, told the racing board the perception of racing has been damaged by the injuries.

"The viability of this sport needs to be considered," she said. "How much is public perception shifting (regarding) the care of these animals? We are concerned about the future of this activity and what the people in California want. We would like more transparency about what's happened."

Racing board chairman Chuck Winner, who owns horses racing in California, said between speakers that the racing board was troubled by the injury rate.

"One horse lost is one too many horses lost," he said. "No one cares more about horses than people in racing. The number one thing we care about is the safety of horses and the people on their backs. We care deeply about the animals, more than I can tell you."

At the start of the 40-minute discussion, racing board executive director Rick Baedeker presented a summary of protocols related to drug testing and horse fatalities. He said a second state veterinarian has been added for the final weeks of the summer meeting to expand out-of-competition testing and to examine horses entered to race. One track veterinarian and one state veterinarian were already in place to examine horses on race mornings.

Baedeker detailed medication testing done at the University of California-Davis and the necropsy reports conducted on all horses that die within facilities regulated by the racing board. He specifically addressed the breakdowns that have occurred in recent weeks.

"They are heartbreaking for everyone," he said. "Investigations are being conducted on all horses lost at this meeting. The same investigation is conducted on all horses."

Cliff Goodrich, the former president of Santa Anita and now the executive director of the California Throughbred Horsemen's Foundation, scolded the activists for some of their comments that racing was not doing enough to prevent injuries.

"To insinuate they're not trying is out of bounds," Goodrich said. "It's an insult. We will continue to try. We will never be perfect, but for it's not for a lack of trying.

"I admire your dedication. This is a tough issue to deal with and perfection will probably never be achieved."