Horse found dead in stall at Los Alamitos Race Course; 17th dead horse this year

A 4-year-old filly at Los Alamitos Race Course has suffered a sudden death, becoming the track's 17th racehorse to die this year.

Pistachio Princess died Monday, according to the California Horse Racing Board.

The filly had 19 starts in her career and two first-place finishes, with wins at Santa Anita in March and at Los Alamitos in June 2021. She was owned by Belico Racing LLC, her trainer was Lorenzo Ruiz and her jockey was Edgar Payeras.

"The death of Pistachio Princess is the 17th we've seen at Los Alamitos, and the 57th racehorse death in California this year. Pumping horses full of drugs until their death and ignoring the welfare of these iconic American equines will no longer be tolerated," said Marty Irby, executive director of the nationwide group Animal Wellness Action. "If trainers in the sport don't clean up their act and they continue to fight against the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, then the sport will undoubtedly end up just like animal exhibits at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus and swiftly wither away."

Mike Marten, public information officer with the CHRB, told City News Service that Pistachio Princess was found dead in her stall Monday, and her cause of death would be confirmed by a postmortem examination under the direction of the University of California at Davis.

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"Sudden death is defined as an acute collapse and death in a closely observed and previously apparently healthy horse," Marten said.

"As the California Horse Racing Board, with the full cooperation of the racing industry, continues to reduce the number of equine fatalities each year — reduced by more than 50 percent in the last few years — there are fewer musculo-skeletal fatalities associated with racing and training," Marten's statement said. "Therefore, as a percentage of overall fatalities, sudden deaths have become a larger percentage, as the raw number has remained constant. There are not more sudden deaths than before. It just appears so in light of the decrease from other causes.

"Sudden deaths are a worldwide problem, and not just among racehorses. Sudden deaths occur in other animal populations, as well as occur among humans, particularly athletes. A tremendous amount of attention and resources are being devoted to researching sudden deaths throughout the world. In California, we are fortunate to have one of the world's experts on sudden death, Dr. Francisco Uzal, on the faculty of UC Davis to advise us on such matters. Dr. Uzal heads the CHRB Equine Postmortem Program at UC Davis.

"Despite these efforts, sudden deaths are not fully understood. In fact, almost half the postmortem examinations worldwide involving sudden deaths do not result in a definite diagnosis on exact cause of death, though the presumption is that many are due to cardiovascular failure," the statement adds.

"We should note that the complete, exhaustive postmortem examinations and in-depth toxicology studies have found no evidence to suggest that medications are the cause of the sudden deaths here in California."

Los Alamitos officials did not reply to a request for comment.

So far in 2022, seven horses at the Cypress track have died from racing injuries, three from training injuries and another seven from other causes.

Earlier this year, Los Alamitos took a series of steps aimed at improving safety following a spate of four horse deaths in an 11-day span.

According to the CHRB, Los Alamitos has eliminated the use of "high toe grabs" — similar to cleats worn by football players to give them better traction on turf — on rear horseshoes. The track also eliminated the "breaking bar" in quarter-horse races. The bar is similar to a starting block in track meets, adding traction at the start of a race.

The track also consulted with a racing surface expert to determine if the track surface is a contributing factor to the injuries, and it contacted UC Davis to "fund a study of lumbar fractures in quarter-horses," CHRB officials said.

Eleven horses died from racing or training injuries at Los Alamitos in 2021, with another two deaths listed as "other." The track was briefly placed on probation by the CHRB in July 2020 due to a spate of racehorse deaths. At that time, at least 20 horses had died at the track in 2020 after suffering racing or training injuries.