Coincidences at Santa Anita? No Thank You

April 1, 2019

A very pricey and savvy lawyer once told me “coincidences are for romance novels” and I believe for the most part he was right. Yesterday many of us in racing witnessed one of the things dreaded most. We saw the 23rd fatality at Santa Anita since the meet opened back on December 26th. Despite a variety of experts called in to examine the racing surface which was repeatedly reported to be fine, the track closed temporarily only to re-open Friday. They managed to go two days without incident. Then the worst became reality.

Although this accident happened during the running of the San Simeon Stakes at six and a half furlongs on the turf, and will be officially classified as a turf accident, that is deceptive. The accident occurred as the horses crossed the dirt strip at the top of the stretch and on the dirt part of the turf course. Yes, the dirt part of the turf course at the “great race place.”

I have watched horses cross that dirt strip for years. I never understood why it was there or how any designer, engineer, or otherwise thought it was a good idea. You can’t count the times horses go off stride and look both awkward and uncomfortable when they cross it. As a bettor, you just kind of hold your breath when the horses hit it. I am not sure how or why anyone would have signed off on that design. Common sense screams at the very least it could be better, and at the worst it could be hazardous. It appears that way to me anyway and did long before Rockingham Ranch’s Arms Runner went down.

Prior to #23 Santa Anita rolled out medication and procedural revisions to possibly reduce breakdowns. They are also changing how the riding crops are used. Racing needs many revisions, and I am not going to comment on those here and now. Enough both for and against has been said already. There is something far more troubling here to me. I’ll talk about that.

I have been watching races live, on monitors, and on replays for many years. Decades. When Arms Runner went down, and subsequently got up, I knew he had no chance to survive. It was one of the worst breaks to see, and we in this sport have all seen them and there is no need to describe it here. It is the one of the ones when you know. Immediately.

What I found troubling, and potentially worse than that, is that the horse was taken by van back to the barn and only then euthanized. Why? Was Arms Runner allowed to suffer instead of humanely or as humanely as possible being put down to avoid the bad publicity? I do not know the answer to that question, but I also do not see a lot of possibilities either. Furthermore, I don’t see anyone asking that question. There are a lot of people who claim the horse comes first. Is this an example of that? Many claim the majority of people in this sport love the horses, and I am not disputing that or challenging or calling out anyone, just asking if this is how we demonstrate what the priorities really are?

To double check my thought process, which I generally believe in wholeheartedly, I checked with a few trainers, and two Vets. They all had the same opinion as I do, but I did gain a tad more insight that may or may not have come into play. Even if it did, I am not sure it makes all that much difference.

I believe the owner and trainer were returning from Dubai when this incident occurred. Normally that would be their call, and they were not reachable. This was not normal either, it was catastrophic. The track Vet in my opinion had the obligation to make the immediate call.

Arms Runner was off from July 19th, 2017 until May 3, 2018. That is a pretty significant layoff for a horse. He has been pretty steady since he returned to competition however. He earned just under $125K for Rockingham Ranch and won the Desert Code Stakes at Santa Anita over this same course back in May of 2018. Obviously he was familiar with the odd configuration.

Brian Trump, principal owner and manager of Rockingham Ranch was gracious to provide this quote despite going through racings highest highs and lowest lows over this past weekend.

I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I had just landed at LAX when I heard the news of our beloved Arms Runner. The range of emotions in the past 24 hours has left me at a loss for words. From winning the Golden Shaheen with X Y Jet to losing our sweet Arms Runner…. the emotions have been more than I can handle. 

As I reflect this morning, I can tell you that the accident at Santa Anita yesterday was just that, an unfortunate accident. As you saw, Arms Runner took a misstep when crossing from the turf to the dirt and was coming down the hill with such momentum that the jockey was unable to slow him down before he collided with another horse. The Santa Anita track has had to deal with record breaking rains this fall and have brought in expert after expert to provide the safest possible surface for these horses, and after speaking with other horsemen and jockeys we are confident that the track is safe. Furthermore, our team would never put a horse out there to race if we didn’t  feel that the track was safe and our horse was 100% healthy. Point in case, we just had to scratch 2 time Eclipse Sprint champion Roy H from the Dubai Golden Shaheen after shipping him across the world to run in the biggest purse available for dirt sprinters. And 2 months ago we scratched Stormy Liberal from a race in Florida after they endured rain and the race was switched to a dirt surface. The safety of our horses always comes first and if they ever show any sign of potential injury, we immediately scratch them from the race and remove them from training until they have recovered. Our horses receive the best available care that you could imagine and each one of them holds a special place in our hearts.

Maybe this was one of those cases where a coincidence was just that. Maybe. Maybe we will never know and maybe something will be revealed in the future that sheds additional light on this difficult time in the Sport of Kings. Time will tell. Maybe.

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Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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