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Trainer banned at Santa Anita as 30th horse dies

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In this photo taken last month, horses race at Santa Anita Park as controversy continues over the high number of horse deaths at the track in Arcadia, California. AFP

Trainer banned at Santa Anita as 30th horse dies

Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was banned from Santa Anita on Saturday after a horse in his care died while training – the 30th equine fatality at the Southern California racetrack since December 26.

The Stronach Group, which owns the track located northeast of Los Angeles, said in a statement that Hollendorfer “is no longer welcome to stable, race or train horses at any of our facilities.”

American Currency, a four-year-old gelding trained by Hollendorfer, was euthanised on Saturday after suffering a leg injury while running over the training track, which sits between the turf course and the infield and is not used for racing.

It was the fourth Hollendorfer-trained horse to die at Santa Anita and the 30th death since the track’s racing season began on December 26.

It was the second equine death at Santa Anita – which is due to host the Breeders’ Cup in November – since track officials refused a request from the California Horse Racing Board to suspend racing, instead opting to complete the season that was scheduled to end on Sunday.

The deaths have put racing under scrutiny across the country.

Hollendorfer came in for heavy criticism in a CNN story that aired on Friday, which reported that the CHRB is investigating the role of trainers in some of the deaths and has experts examining the remains of the dead horses for clues.

The CHRB declined to comment for the story, and The Stronach Group gave few details in its statement on Hollendorfer.

‘Increasingly challenging’

“Individuals who do not embrace the new rules and safety measures that put horse and rider safety above all else, will have no place at any Stronach Group racetrack,” the company’s statement said.

“We regret that Mr Hollendorfer’s record in recent months at both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields has become increasingly challenging and does not match the level of safety and accountability we demand.

Hollendorfer declined to comment for the CNN report, which said he had been sanctioned 19 times by the CHRB since 2006 for overmedication or use of illicit medications on horses.

On Saturday he noted in comments to the Daily Racing Form that he had “never been suspended or anything like that”.

“I’m training over 100 horses right now,” he told the publication. “Santa Anita didn’t want me stay on the grounds. My opinion was that was a premature thing to do. I thought it was extreme.”

The number of deaths at Santa Anita has prompted calls from animal-advocacy groups and some politicians for a halt in racing at Santa Anita, or even a ban of the sport in California.

Racing was halted at the track for much of March while tests were conducted of the surface and subsurface of the dirt track, with no apparent cause for the increase in breakdowns found.

Races resumed on April 4 after the CHRB approved a series of Stronach-proposed safety measures including a reduction in race-day administration of medications and the elimination of the use of riding crops except to ensure safety.

Santa Anita and the CHRB have also created a “safety review team” that evaluates all horses at the track.

The five-member panel of veterinarians and stewards has the authority to scratch a horse from a race if even one panelist questions the animal’s fitness.