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Santa Anita checking if rules followed before horse’s death

ARCADIA, Calif. — The owner of Santa Anita is investigating whether new rules were followed before the 26th horse death at the Southern California racetrack.

Kochees, a 9-year-old gelding, was euthanized Sunday after injuring his left front leg in a race a day earlier. It was the third horse death in nine days and the 26th overall since the season began Dec. 26.

Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for The Stronach Group, told The Associated Press on Monday that the track’s owner is looking into whether protocols were followed leading up to the gelding being euthanized.

“If those rules were not followed, consequences will be swift,” he said. “I’m not going to get into specifics of that incident, but anybody who thinks they can sort of skirt the rules and perhaps there was an old way of doing things, it’s not going to fly anymore.”

Among the rules put in place since March, a trainer’s veterinarian must sign off on a horse’s fitness before the track’s veterinarian also takes a look at the animal ahead of its training or racing.

Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, Kochees was pulled up by jockey Mario Gutierrez entering the top of the stretch in the 5 ½-furlong race Saturday. The gelding was taken off the track via van and had a splint applied to his leg.

The injury appeared to be correctable through surgery. However, when doctors realized the horse had lost blood flow to the leg, he was euthanized.

Hollendorfer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The previous fatality was Spectacular Music, an unraced 3-year-old gelding who suffered a pelvic injury during training on May 19 and was euthanized the next day after his condition worsened. Commander Coil was injured May 18 during a gallop on the training track and was euthanized.

Friedman described the seven-week stretch without any incidents before the three deaths in the last two weekends as “pretty much an unprecedented run of safety as far as catastrophic injuries go.”

“We believe that’s in part because the reforms are starting to take hold and work,” he said.

Animal rights activists protested outside the track Monday, toting signs urging the end of racing in California.

“We’re open because the track is safe according to every single person we have talked to,” Friedman said. “With that track safety, we’re confident in running the horses here.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called for racing to be suspended until an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is completed.

“Decreasing the number of broken bones is not enough,” Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of PETA, said in a statement. “Nothing short of a zero-fatality rate is acceptable.”

Before the second race Monday, jockey Drayden Van Dyke was dumped by his mount Crystal Lake as the field was making its way to the starting gate. The 3-year-old filly took off running up the track and an outrider failed to catch her. She continued running toward the stable area. Van Dyke wasn’t hurt.

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