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Santa Anita to continue racing despite calls to end meet early

Updated June 13, 2019 - 5:34 pm

They say the house always wins, but that might not be the case as Santa Anita Park’s snakebitten meeting draws to a close.

Officials at the historic Southern California racetrack are rolling the dice in a big way by resisting growing pressure to cancel the final six days of the meet after the deaths of two more horses last week, bringing the total since Dec. 26 to 29.

The California Horse Racing Board and California’s senior U.S. senator, Dianne Feinstein, urged the track owner, The Stronach Group, to end the session early.

“With only two weeks left in the racing season, there’s no reason to wait for more dead horses,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Terminate racing at Santa Anita and do it now.”

Officials with the company, the biggest owner of horse racing tracks in the U.S., demurred and indicated the show would go on.

Gov. Gavin Newsom entered the controversy being stoked by PETA and other animal rights activists on Tuesday, issuing a statement calling on the racing board to “ensure that no horse races until it is examined by independent veterinarians and found fit to compete.”

“As Santa Anita prepares to host the 2019 Breeders’ Cup in November, we must show the horse racing world that California puts safety first,” Newsom said.

That led to an announcement Wednesday by the horse racing board stating that, with the support of the Stronach Group, it was immediately creating a five-member team to provide additional review of horses’ medical training and racing history. Any single member of the team, consisting of racing officials and independent veterinarians, will be empowered to scratch horses that do not appear fit to run, it said.

The new reviews come on top of other measures implemented in recent months to increase examinations of horses scheduled to race or undergo workouts.

A series of aggressive statements by Feinstein, which have nearly mirrored PETA’s talking points, and Newsom’s restrained response illustrate the growing political influence of animal rights activists in the state and the tricky spot Golden State officials find themselves in, since horse racing provides thousands of jobs and generates considerable tax revenue.

One can only hope that the remaining morning workouts and races at Santa Anita aren’t marred by any more fatalities. If any horses die, you can expect the hue and cry to grow even louder and the future of the sport to grow even more clouded.

#RJhorseracing featured races

Churchill Downs has a stellar twilight card scheduled Saturday, capped by the $600,000 Stephen Foster. The #RJhorseracing handicappers are all over that 1⅛-mile test for 3-year-olds and up, which drew a bountiful field of 12. The crowd ’cappers also are tackling the $250,000 Wise Dan on the undercard, a 1 1/16th-mile turf battle that attracted an overflow field of 15.

In the latter, the handicapping crew is narrowly backing Admission Office (morning line co-favorite at 5-1) over California invader Itsinthepost (also 5-1), with Inspector Lynley (6-1) in third.

I’ve been going my own way lately, but I also like Admission Office, who altered course in the stretch of the Dixie Stakes at Pimlico last month and then just missed catching the top runner, Catholic Boy. I have March to the Arch (6-1) and Cullum Road (6-1) filling out my top three.

In the Grade 2 Stephen Foster (no longer run as a handicap), the crowd ’cappers see 3-1 morning line favorite Gift Box as having the field over a barrel, with Seeking the Soul (4-1), Tenfold (12-1) and Quip (10-1) tied for No. 2.

“Ran his heart out in defeat,” wrote Mark “the Godfather” Wayman of the group’s pick, referring to his narrow loss to Vino Rosso in the Santa Anita Handicap.

I can’t resist a double-digit morning line on Quip, who showed serious talent in last year’s Triple Crown preps and is improving after two races as a 4-year-old. I’ll use Gift Box and Exulting (20-1) in the lesser placings.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Friday. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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