Horse racing at Golden Gate Fields (file photo). Credit: Golden Gate Fields

Four racehorses died within eight days last month at Golden Gate Fields, bringing the number of horse deaths at the track to 26 this year, according to the California Horse Racing Board.

Galloping Slew died Nov. 14 and Ima Rumbler on Nov. 16, from injuries sustained during training, confirmed Mike Marten, spokesperson for the state board. Their deaths were caused by musculoskeletal injuries, a common cause of death among racehorses.

Mary’s Great Hope died due to a training injury on Nov. 21, and Inimitable was euthanized after falling on the track during a race on Nov. 19, Marten said. The official causes of both deaths have yet to be released.

David Duggan, general manager of Golden Gate Fields, said that not all of the “injuries are necessarily musculoskeletal, as they are deemed by the California Horse Racing Board.”

“We do have instances occasionally of post-surgical incidents from anesthesia or we have cardiac events,” he said. “It affects us all very deeply when a horse loses its life.”

The loss of life of any horse by means of racing is unacceptable to Martha Sullivan of Kill Racing Not Horses, an advocacy group dedicated to repealing legalized gambling on horse racing in California.

“That’s our policy goal,” said Sullivan, who added that the group has volunteers at each track monitoring horse races. “The reality is, what kills horses is racing.”

A measure to legalize sports betting in California may appear on a ballot next November, which Sullivan hopes would divert gamblers from betting on racehorses.

“We can make plenty of money off … wagering on humans,” she said. “We don’t need to continue abusing horses in order to provide betting opportunities to people.”

Every horse that suffers a life-ending injury at Golden Gate Fields undergoes a necropsy at UC Davis to determine the cause of death, Duggan said. The track employs more than a dozen veterinarians, two of whom are board-certified surgeons, and they now use an equine PET scan that can detect a horse’s skeletal issues beforehand, he said.

“We do everything in our power to save the horse. But sometimes that’s no longer an option. … These instances are regrettable and it makes us all very sad when it happens. But they do occur from time to time.”

A fifth pony horse died of colic at the racetrack on Nov. 6. Last year, there were 27 deaths at the track, which is owned by the Stronach Group.

In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two bills that would “boost safety and transparency in horse racing” after an unprecedented increase in fatalities at tracks in Southern California.

Pamela Turntine

Before joining Berkeleyside as editor-in-chief in April 2021, Pamela was a longtime editor at the Bay Area News Group. Her roles there included night city editor and managing editor for the Oakland Tribune...