The CEO of the Humane Society of the United States called for federal legislation to address current horse-racing regulations after a 3-year-old gelding was euthanized over the weekend after suffering an injury while training at the Del Mar racetrack.
Koa, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, was training on the main track Saturday morning when the incident occurred, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club spokesman Mac McBride confirmed to City News Service.
A complete necropsy will be performed, as is done with all horse deaths in the state, he said.
Kitty Block, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States, addressed the latest death at Del Mar on Sunday, writing, “This tragic death, one of a terrible long string throughout 2018 and 2019, makes plain the urgent need for federal legislation, like the Horseracing Integrity Act, to address serious regulatory shortcomings concerning race-day medication, transparency at the track and in the stable and consistent application of these standards to all racetracks in the United States. Without such reforms more horses will die.”
Block also wrote in her statement, “Whatever the necropsy reveals, the death of Koa could very well have been prevented if there were consistent standards for all racetracks. Koa’s hall of fame trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, banned from both the Santa Anita and Del Mar racetracks this summer, won an injunction in court that forced Del Mar to allow him to race again.”
Hollendorfer, 73, a Hall of Fame trainer, was banned from the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in June, but a San Diego judge granted an injunction in July that allowed him to continue doing business at the track.
He was also banned by the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, and by the New York Racing Association.
A least four horses under Hollendorfer’s supervision at Santa Anita Park died within the past year, which he attributed to “a run of bad luck.”
In July, he argued that Del Mar officials did not provide an adequate reason for precluding him from racing. In his written ruling, Judge Ronald F. Frazier ruled that Del Mar “arbitrarily” denied Hollendofer’s stall application without providing him a hearing on the matter.
J. Christopher Jaczko, representing the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, argued that whether or not Hollendorfer could be connected to the horses’ deaths, Del Mar’s decision to exclude Hollendorfer was a valid business decision based on the negative publicity Hollendorfer could bring.
“Mr. Hollendorfer’s record over the past six months in California is problematic,” Jaczko said.
He alleged that banning Hollendorfer was also in the interests of horse safety and not just to avoid bad publicity. However, had avoiding negative publicity been the sole reason for the ban, Jaczko contended that would be a rational business justification on Del Mar’s part, particularly with the heightened scrutiny the horse racing industry is currently facing.
“We’re not saying he did anything to kill those horses. We’re saying that in the best interest of our business, we don’t want the attention, we don’t want the clamor that we’re not doing everything we can to change business as usual,” Jaczko said.
Talking to reporters outside the courtroom in July, Hollendorfer said he had confidence in his training methods, but would be open to recommendations to improve horse safety.
“I would guess my stable does more with horses every day than any other stable that I know of,” Hollendorfer said. “We examine every horse every day from head to toe. We take them out of their stalls and jog them down the road and make sure that they’re sound before we even consider taking them to the racetrack. I think that we’re doing plenty to ensure the safety of our stable and if somebody else has another suggestion how to do more, than I’m certainly willing to listen to somebody’s opinion on that.”
Koa is at least the ninth horse to die while training or racing at Del Mar this year, including three horses injured in races on the same day on Nov. 10.
The deaths come amid heightened scrutiny placed on horse racing since 37 horses died at Santa Anita during the just-concluded racing year.
Officials with the California Horse Racing Board and The Stronach Group enacted a series of new rules and procedures, and the earlier this month the CHRB — meeting at Del Mar — recommended a series of further reforms to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
On Nov. 4, Newsom had asked the board to submit recommendations for reform within 30 days.
Racing at Del Mar was canceled on Thanksgiving due to stormy weather forecasts, but resumed this weekend.
“The weatherman is making it tough, but safety always comes first,” said Tom Robbins, Del Mar’s executive vice president for racing.
— City News Service