Eskenforadrink became the 20th equine fatality related to racing or training at Santa Anita Park since its meet opened Dec. 26 when she broke down during the third race March 2 and had to be euthanized because of her injury.
The 4-year-old daughter of Eskendereya sustained a fracture to her right front fetlock, according to California Horse Racing Board state veterinarian Dr. Tim Grande, and was pulled up by jockey Geovanni Franco late in the backstretch run of the $16,000 claiming event for older fillies and mares. After her connections discussed and evaluated the possibility of attempting to save her with the goal of making her a broodmare, the decision was made to euthanize, Grande said. Eskenforadrink was owned by Oscar Heredia and trained by Jorge Gutierrez.
Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, declined to comment on the incident Saturday.
Mick Peterson, the director of Ag Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky and a racetrack surfaces specialist whom Santa Anita brought in as a consultant to analyze and evaluate the main track during the two days it was closed for training Feb. 26-27, said he was informed of the fatality while he was on a plane heading back home.
Peterson said earlier in the week he didn't see any evidence of an issue with the track during his two days of study but also indicated he was "working on the assumption" that there was a potential issue with "segregation" of the material on the main track during a winter in California that has featured abnormally high levels of rain. When it rains, the finer material of the top cushion level of the racetrack "moves to the inside rail with the water as it's washing across the surface," Peterson said.
Since the pause in training for the renovations Tuesday and Wednesday, Saturday was the first time the main track took significant rainfall. On Friday night, Santa Anita announced that the main track would be closed for training Saturday, which is standard operating procedure when it takes significant amounts of rain.
"All of this is an ongoing investigation, but when we looked at everything during the week, what we found was—even before we mixed the material—we found almost no signs of segregation of the material," said Peterson, who also noted soil samples are continuing to be examined by UK. "By the time we got everything done, we did not see any signs of segregation at all. Santa Anita is more consistent than most racetracks, and these were typical Santa Anita results.
"But when I heard about (the incident Saturday), my response was, 'What the hell do we do?' … This is where my data needs to go back to (CHRB equine medical director Dr.) Rick Arthur, the CHRB needs to sit down with the track management, and we need to work on it. Even if we were having a good year, we need to look at what we need to do better."
BloodHorse requested a comment from the CHRB, and the regulatory agency issued a statement through spokesman Mike Marten.
"The (CHRB) will conduct an investigation into the incident, as we always do," the statement said. "The CHRB grants a racing association a license to conduct a race meet, so the decision to train or race during that meet rests with the racing association (in this case Santa Anita), unless the board decides at an open, public meeting to suspend the license. State law requires that such a meeting would require a 10-day public notice.
"When it comes to safety, the board always considers all options."
When the main track was reopened for training Feb. 28, the 45 horses who recorded timed workouts on the main track and the 50 who raced during the day's card came back without serious injury. Training and racing March 1 were also completed without incident as 253 horses recorded timed works on the main track and 68 raced. All came back without any serious injury. Sixty horses participated in Santa Anita's 10-race Saturday card.
From the 12 fatalities that have occurred because of injuries during racing, seven came from injuries on the main track and five came on the turf. Of the eight fatalities from training, one was classified as a "sudden death" by the CHRB, meaning it was not related to a musculoskeletal injury. The other seven were from injuries sustained on the main track, and none were associated with injuries on the training track, which has remained open.
As of 6 p.m. PT, Santa Anita had not announced to horsemen through its text message alert system whether it plans to cancel main-track training March 3, but rain is expected to continue in Southern California overnight and into Sunday.