Horse euthanized at Santa Anita Park, first at track this season

ARCADIA, Calif. (KABC) -- A horse broke down in the last race at Santa Anita on Wednesday, the track's first racing death of the winter-spring meet after a spate of deaths last year.

Golden Birthday took a bad step in the stretch and jockey Victor Espinoza fell off while trying to pull up the 4-year-old gelding trained by Jim Cassidy. Espinoza wasn't hurt.

Veterinarians recommended that Golden Birthday be euthanized, although it wasn't immediately clear what his injury was. He was competing in a 1 1/8-mile turf race worth $57,000.

Golden Birthday had two wins in 10 career starts and earnings of $117,894. A necropsy will be conducted, which is required by the California Horse Racing Board.

The winter-spring meet began on Dec. 28, 2019 two days later than usual after the track postponed opening day due to concern over rain in the forecast. On Dec. 26, Truest Reward sustained a broken left front leg on the training track and was euthanized.

RELATED: As new season opens, another horse dies at Santa Anita - 38th death in the past year

Santa Anita instituted major reforms last year in an attempt to stem the number of fatalities. A total of 37 horses died at the Arcadia track last year.

The track and the sport of horse racing have faced increasing pressure from animal-rights activists in connection with the horse deaths, which included 2017 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway while training at the track on Feb. 23 and Mongolian Groom, who was euthanized after suffering a fatal injury in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November of last year.
The California Horse Racing Board is set to issue a report later in January on the horse deaths.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office concluded Dec. 19 that there was no criminal wrongdoing connected to the deaths, but offered a series of recommendations aimed at improving safety at racetracks in California.

RELATED: Prosecutor finds no criminal liability in series of Santa Anita horse deaths

A task force formed by the Los Angeles district attorney found the 49 deaths at the track during a 12-month period ending in June occurred at a rate higher than the national average, but lower than some years in the past decade and lower than Churchill Downs in Kentucky.

In December, Santa Anita debuted a "cutting-edge'' PET Scan machine to provide imaging of the fetlock or ankle joint - the most common area for injuries to occur in Thoroughbreds - without horses having to undergo anesthesia, and said it will help to diagnose pre-existing conditions in Thoroughbred racehorses.

RELATED: Santa Anita Park unveils standing PET scan machine for horses

"This state-of-the-art technology reflects a new standard of care within Thoroughbred racing -- a standard that puts the health and safety of horses and riders first,'' said Belinda Stronach, The Stronach Group's chairman and president.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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