22nd horse since December dies at California's Santa Anita Park after race track declared safe
ARCADIA, Calif. - The death toll in a rash of horse deaths since December at a racing park in California has risen to 22 after yet another horse died Thursday morning at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
Princess Lili B, a 3-year-old filly, was injured around 8 a.m. during a training session, park officials said.
Los Angeles station FOX 11 was in the middle of an interview with trainer Bob Baffert discussing the recent incidents at the track when the injury happened. Baffert said the horse seemed to be "hesitating" a bit and appeared to be "tired" before the animal went down.
Officials later confirmed the horse broke both front legs and that the animal could not be saved.
"We're perplexed by what has happened and devastated," said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita.
"The track, we have complete confidence in the track, with the greatest track crew in America, and it's just a devastating time for all of us,'' Ritvo added.
Nearly two dozen horses have suffered fatal injuries since the track's winter meet began on Dec. 26.
The race track had been shut down since March 5, when a 21st horse was injured during a workout and died. The park started holding limited training earlier this week, but it remained closed for racing as officials worked to implement a series of new safety protocols.
Santa Anita received 11.5 inches of rain and had unusually cold temperatures in February. However, it was unclear whether track conditions played a role in any of the horse deaths.
The park was also closed for two days in February while the dirt surface was tested. Mick Peterson, a track and safety expert brought in from the University of Kentucky, proclaimed the track "100 percent ready" to resume racing.
Peterson said radar verified that all of the silt, clay and sand, as well as the moisture content, were consistent throughout the track. Its dirt surface was peeled back 5 inches and reapplied.
The highest-profile horse to be euthanized was Battle of Midway, winner of the 2017 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. The 5-year-old bay also finished third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The horse suffered injuries during a workout on Feb. 23.
The number of deaths has drawn both concern and criticism. A handful of animal-rights activists gathered outside Santa Anita's main gate last weekend, carrying signs and shouting.
Ritvo said despite Thursday's fatality, the famed track was still scheduled to resume racing on March 22.
"If you can't race this horse on this track, then you can't race any of these horses," Ritvo said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.