SANTA ANITA, Calif. (FOX 11) - District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced Tuesday that she has formed a task force to investigate the horse deaths at Santa Anita Racetrack. The news comes in light of the deaths of 23 horses at the facility since Dec. 26.
"I have formed a task force of experienced deputy district attorneys and sworn peace officers with varied expertise within my office who will thoroughly investigate and evaluate the evidence to determine whether unlawful conduct or conditions affected the welfare and safety of horses at Santa Anita Park," Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.
Demonstrators from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested outside the district attorney's downtown Los Angeles office just over a month ago to urge a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the horses' deaths, with a D.A.'s spokesman saying soon afterward that investigators had been assigned to work with the California Horse Racing Board.
Santa Anita issued a statement saying it has been working cooperatively with investigators from Lacey's office.
"Santa Anita has, is and will continue to fully cooperate with the district attorney's investigation,'' according to the track statement. "The Stronach Group (the track owners) is fully committed to modernizing our sport in a way that prioritizes the welfare and safety of horses above all. We will work with anyone -- including the District Attorney's Office -- that shares our commitment to this cause.''
Racing was suspended at the track for much of March while authorities studied the racing surface for possible causes of the horse deaths. Races resumed after the state horse racing board approved a series of safety measures, including limits on certain types of medications administered to horses.
Twenty-three horses have died at Santa Anita since Dec. 26 -- most recently Arms Runner. The 5-year-old gelding suffered a severe and ultimately fatal injury to his right front leg during the Grade 3 San Simeon Stakes as he was about to re-enter the turf portion of the course that starts at the top of a hillside and has a crossover point on dirt.
In a letter to the California Horse Racing Board, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called April 2 for racing to be suspended at the track "until the cause or causes of these deaths can be fully investigated.''
The CHRB had been set to meet last week to discuss the possibility of relocating races away from Santa Anita, but the meeting was scrubbed and the discussion of Santa Anita racing is instead set for the board's meeting Thursday at Santa Anita.
Moving races away from Santa Anita would require approval from The Stronach Group. Tim Ritvo, The Stronach Group's chief operating officer, told the Daily Racing Form that Santa Anita fully intends to maintain its schedule of racing through the end of the current meet, June 23.
CNS contributed to this report.