Investigators are only 3,500 years behind Chinese potters in figuring out that wood ash hardens clay
ARCADIA, California––Cro-Magnon troglodytes apparently never figured out that wood ash hardens clay, despite having many millennia of opportunity to do so.
Thus the failure of the Santa Anita Park management to investigate the effects of soot and ash fallout from the 96,949-acre Woolsey Fire on their turf, track, and training surfaces perhaps could be pardoned, if horses were not continuing to die there.
Deaths attributed to anything & everything else
The deaths continue to be attributed––despite a paucity of supporting evidence––to anything and everything else associated with horse racing and training that anyone either within the industry or critical of it complains about.
ANIMALS 24-7 on March 8, 2019 extensively exposed the strong circumstantial evidence associating the soot and ash fallout with the string of horse deaths at Santa Anita, four days after beginning to share our findings with horse racing experts.
Yet a week later, to our awareness none of those experts, and none of the many to whom we forwarded the article, Fire, horses, & Santa Anita: ashes, ashes, they all fall down?, post-publication, have even consulted soil chemists, roadbuilders, or potters, for that matter, to find out first hand how soot and ash can harden a loose clay-and-sand surface, especially after a sprinkling of water––like the unusually heavy rainfall afflicting Santa Anita from late December through February––or how this can occur without necessarily changing the visible characteristics of the material.
From Cro Magnon pottery to the Shang Dynasty
Archaeology indicates that pottery-making began in the Stone Age, as early as 29,000 BCE, may have been known to Cro-Magnon cave dwellers, and was practiced in China by 18,000 BCE.
Yet it was only circa 1,500 BCE that Shang Dynasty potters began to realize that ashes from their wood-fired kilns hardened the surfaces of their clay vessels. Firing the vessels increased the effect.
This led to the introduction of ash-based glazes circa 1,000 BCE, initially consisting only of ash, clay, and water. Pigments were added later.
Horse racing originated in Central Asia circa 4,500 BCE, about the same time as the potter’s wheel emerged in China. Both horse racing and the potter’s wheel were well-known throughout China by the Xia Dynasty, which preceded the Shang Dynasty by 1,500 years.
The Woolsey Fire
In view of the length of time that it took for potters to discover the effects of wood ash on clay, it may be no surprise that the multitudes of horse racing people and animal advocates trying to figure out why 22 horses have died on the turf, track, and training surfaces at Santa Anita Park have yet to think about the soot and ash fallout from the 96,949-acre Woolsey Fire.
The Woolsey Fire, among the biggest in Southern California history, raged from November 8 to November 22, 2018, less than an hour’s drive north of Santa Anita even in slow traffic. Soot and ash blanketed the entire greater Los Angeles area for weeks.
Santa Anita Park closed for seven weeks, between racing seasons, three days before the Woolsey Fire erupted. The string of horse deaths began almost immediately after Santa Anita Park reopened.
Horse deaths had precedents
The horse deaths at Santa Anita were not unprecedented. ANIMALS 24-7 has turned up a confluence of megafires burning thousands of acres in proximity to unexplained rashes of horse racing deaths not only at Santa Anita Park, but also at many other tracks.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, two hours south, had a string of 27 horse deaths in 2016, just after and during the Border Fire and the Roblar Fire, both about 30 miles away, which between them burned 20,000 acres.
Los Alamitos, a third horse racing track near Los Angeles, had five horse deaths in just seven days of racing in July-August 2018. The Los Alamitos deaths coincided with the peak of the Cranston Fire, which burned 13,139 acres in Riverside County, about 50 miles away, between July 26, 2018 and August 10, 2018.
Horse death streaks have also occurred downwind from major fires at tracks in Arizona in 2017 and 2018, and in Australia since 2014.
Princess Lili B
Princess Lili B, a three-year-old filly who had raced only twice, finishing ninth on December 29, 2018 and fifth on February 18, 2019, on March 14, 2019 became the 22nd of the string of horse fatalities at Santa Anita Park, fracturing both forelegs at the main track finish line during a half mile training run. Princess Lili B was the tenth horse to die during dirt training during the Santa Anita death streak. Seven have died during dirt racing and five while racing on the Santa Anita turf course.
Princess Lili B was bred, owned, and trained by veteran trainer David Bernstein.
“The work was slow because she never worked fast. She didn’t have a lot of talent. She was just kind of a horse. But she was my horse,” Bernstein told Deadspin writer Patrick Redford.
Bred for unsoundness?
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park and the Golden Gate Fields track in Albany, California, told Paulick Report editor Scott Jagow that Princess Lili B was “a low-risk filly, a three-year-old filly a good work pattern,” who had never raced on sealed tracks [suspected of being harder than open track surfaces] or muddy tracks.”
An anonymous Paulick Report online commenter pointed out that none of Princess Lili B’s most immediate ancestors had raced more than 11 times, going back two generations. Two of her most immediate forebears had raced 15 times between them, while one never raced at all.
The commenter alleged that “Princess Lili B was cheaply bred, and also bred for unsoundness. Of course most unsound horses do not die on the track,” the commenter acknowledged, “but it should be blazingly obvious that horses whose closest ancestors were unable to race more than a few times are at greater risk of breaking down.”
District attorney investigating
This may be true, and other horses suffering fatal injuries at Santa Anita Park might meet the same description, but Battle Of Midway, who suffered a shattered pastern and was euthanized on February 23, 2019, was a five-year-old with four major wins to his credit in 16 starts, including a win in his last race, on February 2, 2019. He had career winnings of $1.6 million, including a third place finish in the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
“The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has assigned investigators to work with the California Horse Racing Board to look into the sudden rise of horse deaths at Santa Anita,” reported Eric Sondheimer, John Cherwa, and Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times on March 15, 2019.
“The district attorney’s office has also been in contact with the Pasadena Humane Society, which has notified the Arcadia Police Department, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation,” Sondheimer, Cherwa, and Fenno said, recalling that “On March 1, 2019, PETA requested that an investigation be held into the horse deaths as violations of California animal cruelty laws. In a news release, PETA said that an investigation should target trainers and veterinarians.”
However, Sondheimer, Cherwa, and Fenno added, “In a three-page letter to district attorney Jackie Lacey, the animal rights group cited historical data, but nothing specific about the latest deaths of horses.”
A complaint not making specific allegations would not normally warrant a criminal investigation. The publicity surrounding the Santa Anita Park track deaths, however, has been so intensive that no one with any relevant jurisdiction seems to want to be left out, or be accused of ignoring anything relevant––unless, of course, it happens to be as obvious as a soot-blackend sky, followed by torrential rains.
Santa Anita bans Lasix & whipping
The Stronach Group suspended racing at Santa Anita Park on March 5, 2019, after the trackside euthanasia of Lets Light The Way due to a shattered sesamoid bone.
A four-year-old-filly belonging to trainer Ron McAnally’s wife Debbie, Lets Light The Way had one win in just four career starts.
Hoping to reopen for racing on March 22, 2019, after having had to scratch 17 days’ worth of events and earnings, the Stronach Group on March 14, 2019––soon after the death of Princess Lili B––moved to appease the public clamor for something to be done, logical or not, by announcing that it would ban race-day use of Lasix, and would also ban whipping horses.
Lasix is a diuretic drug used to ease breathing and reduce the risk of horses suffering lung bleeds, a condition rare in other animals but relatively common in horses who run long and hard.
Lasix quietly came into vogue in horse racing after Northern Dancer won the 1964 Kentucky Derby while on it. For nearly 40 years thereafter the use of Lasix was almost completely uncontroversial.
In humans, meanwhile, Lasix came to be “commonly used to treat the fluid retention and swelling caused by heart failure,” explains the Osteoporosis Canada web site.
Lasix & fractures
Lasix works “by increasing urination and also promotes calcium excretion from the kidneys,” Osteoporosis Canada adds.
Lasix, in humans, is therefore “associated with reduced bone mineral density at the hip,” and “with an increased risk of hip fracture within the first seven days of starting treatment in older adults, which is likely due to an increase in falls.”
Similar effects are suspected in horses, associated with leg fractures, but the evidence is ambiguous.
Wrote Sondheimer, Cherwa, and Fenno, “Larry Bramlage, one of the most respected equine surgeons in the U.S., points to a Scandinavian study that says, ‘The association between Lasix and fractures was disproved.… In the overall scheme of calcium metabolism, it has very little effect.’
Use of Lasix on race day is now banned in most nations that have a horse racing industry, but Jockey Club data indicates that about 96% of the horses raced in the U.S. are given Lasix, largely because horse owners and trainers consider the risk to horses from lung bleeds is greater than the risk of a breakdown, even though a fracture usually leads to having to euthanize the horse.
Why do bettors favor beaten horses?
Banning whipping, meanwhile, is a measure long demanded by both the humane community and many authorities within the horse racing industry.
Whipping racehorses has been banned in India since 2001, and restricted for many years in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Whipping continues in the U.S., as ANIMALS 24-7 pointed out in May 2016, because in the U.S. the jockey who refrains from beating his horse down the homestretch runs the risk of being accused by losing bettors of holding back, fixing the race, cheating those who put their money on that horse to win, place, or show.
“Effort to restore public confidence”
Sondheimer, Cherwa, and Fenno reported that the Santa Anita Park rules changes had produced controversy among members of the organizations California Thoroughbred Trainers and Thoroughbred Owners of California.
Commented New York Times horse racing writer Joe Drape, “Santa Anita, a few miles east of Pasadena, Calif., would be the first racetrack in the nation to carry out such restrictions, an effort to restore public confidence in a sport that for decades has wrestled with drug and safety issues.
“It is unclear whether the new rules will apply to other racetracks owned by the Stronach Group,” Drape added, “including Gulfstream Park in South Florida and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, the home of the Preakness Stakes,” where two horses died on the day of the Preakness in 2016.
Congress joins stampede
“The Santa Anita policy changes,” Drape noted, “came after a bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, was introduced in Congress by Representatives Paul Tonko, Democrat of New York, and Andy Barr, Republican of Kentucky. The bill would create a private, independent authority, the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication control program for horse racing.”
Since the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and the Donald Trump administration have demonstrated no enthusiasm for regulating the show horse industry, the likelihood of the Tonko/Barr bill to regulate racing advancing in the near future is slim, even if it gets through the House of Representatives.
Workouts relative to racing
Drape also mentioned that “Statistically at least, California trainers appear to be more demanding of their horses. Horses at Santa Anita currently average 3.02 workouts per start compared with 0.88 workouts per start for horses running at Gulfstream Park in Florida and 0.42 at Aqueduct in New York, according to data compiled by Equibase.”
However, the Equibase data could also support the opposite conclusion: that horses at Gulfstream and Aqueduct race more often, on a lighter training regimen.