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Santa Anita to continue horse racing despite protests

ARCADIA, Calif. — Santa Anita will continue racing through the end of the current meet on June 23, despite objections from animal rights activists who urged the California Horse Racing Board to shutter the historic track in the wake of 23 horse deaths.

Chairman Chuck Winner said at the racing board’s monthly meeting Thursday that he saw no reason to reallocate any of Santa Anita’s dates to another track.

Since the Arcadia track reopened March 29, one horse died during a turf race. Overall, 23 horses have died in training or racing incidents since Dec. 26, which resulted in the track closing for most of last month.

Eleven of 20 people who addressed the board during a public comment period identified themselves as animal rights activists, with several quoting statistics about horse deaths from the same website. Some called for a ballot measure next year that would ask California voters to decide on the future of horse racing in the state.

“How many more horses will have to die on your watch before you realize Santa Anita is not safe for horses?” said Kiersten Cluster, who identified herself as co-founder of Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles. “You have the opportunity to end this suffering.”

Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, and Tim Ritvo, TSG’s chief operating officer, were on hand but didn’t speak.

Racing board vice chairman Madeline Auerbach challenged some of the activists’ facts involving care of retired racehorses and slaughter, and urged them to become better informed.

One woman who called herself an animal rights activist admitted she had only attended one horse race about five years ago.

“This needs to get closed down,” Zafir Molina said. “I know it’s difficult to hear.”

Cliff Goodrich prefaced his remarks by telling the board he is biased because he loves horses and the racing industry. He is executive director of a group that helps backstretch workers.

“Their solution for change is to shut down the industry. I’m sorry, that’s too drastic a step and is ridiculous on its merit,” said Goodrich, a former Santa Anita president. “I wish the animal rights lovers would work with us instead of against us.”

Many of the activists departed the meeting when the public comment portion ended and weren’t present when the board said racing would continue as scheduled.

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