DEL MAR, Calif. — From his seat beyond the finish line Saturday at Santa Anita, Josh Rubinstein was focused on the celebration in the seconds after Vino Rosso won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

It was only when the president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club turned his gaze to the left that he saw the ambulance on the track and the 4-year-old gelding, Mongolian Groom, in obvious distress.

“With an eighth of a mile to go, it had been an absolutely perfect weekend,” Rubinstein said. “Unfortunately, the horse took a bad step and things changed dramatically.”

Mongolian Groom later was euthanized because of a badly fractured left hind leg, and once again the horse racing industry was left to defend itself against those who seek to reform or banish the sport.

It also put Del Mar officials in the uneasy position of again being the clean-up crew sweeping up after a hurricane.

Thirty horse deaths at Santa Anita in six months from December through June preceded Del Mar’s 2019 summer meeting, which was among the safest in the track’s history. Four horses died in training and none during racing.

Beginning Friday, Del Mar is set to host its 15-day fall meeting on the heels of the Breeders’ Cup death that followed six other equine fatalities during Santa Anita’s fall meet.

“I’m not sure that there could be any more pressure on us than the beginning of the summer meet,” Rubinstein said. “In a perfect world, we wanted nothing more than for Santa Anita to have an equally safe meet, and for the pressure to be turned down.”

Instead, it has been ratcheted up. On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said racing needed “to take a long, hard look at (its) future in this country and we need to do it before more horses needlessly die.”

Feinstein renewed her call for racing to be suspended at Santa Anita, which is scheduled to begin its winter/spring meet on Dec. 26 after Del Mar’s meet closes Dec. 1.

Feinstein said she would look at “all options” with Gov. Gavin Newsom “to protect racehorses and increase transparency at racetracks.”

Rubinstein said Del Mar has not had any engagement with Feinstein’s office this week. He said representatives of Feinstein visited and were given a tour of the track during a summer meet race day.

“We invited them to come out for the fall season,” Rubinstein said.

Horse owner and handicapper Jon Lindo, of Carlsbad, said he was disturbed by Feinstein’s statements, considering the lengths to which the industry has gone in recent months to make racing safer.

“I’ve never seen this business be as proactive about safety as it is right now,” Lindo said. “To not take that into consideration makes no sense.”

A year after its 2018 summer meet was statistically the safest among major tracks in the country, Del Mar and the California Horse Racing Board took extensive measures to identify horses that were unfit to race. Among the moves were an increase in veterinary observers, changes to pain medication protocols and a five-member panel that reviewed all the records of every horse entered to race.

“The fall meet doesn’t get the same attention as the summer does, but from a safety and welfare standpoint, we are absolutely going to be as diligent as we are in the summer,” Rubinstein said. “All of the programs are in place.”

One difference between the summer and fall meets is that far fewer horses are housed at Del Mar. Officials here estimate there will be between 300 and 400 horses stabled on the backstretch over the next month, compared to nearly 2,000 during the summer.

DMTC Racing Secretary David Jerkens said many entrants are stabled at Santa Anita and brought down on the day before or day of a race. Rubinstein said there will be a contingent of vets at Santa Anita to examine the horses before they arrive.

Lindo lauded having fewer horses and after spending time at Del Mar earlier this week, he said, “The main track is in terrific shape. It’s just fantastic. And because there aren’t 2,000 horses training on it, there’s a chance to keep it in that kind of shape for the whole meet.”

Jerkens is charged with creating each day’s racing cards. After the first weekend, the schedule calls for racing on Thursday through Sunday, with a first post time of 12:30 p.m. The exception is the Thanksgiving card that begins at 11 a.m. Del Mar expects to have eight races each Thursday and Friday, and nine on Saturday and Sunday.

With the California horse population down by 250 horses, according to Jerkens, he was satisfied to attract an average of 8.2 horses per race for opening day and will hope for similar numbers throughout the meet (the average last fall was 7.7).

In its sixth year, the fall’s “Bing Crosby Season” moniker has returned after a hiatus in 2018. The racing will look similar, with an emphasis on turf runners and 2-year-olds.

Nine of the meet’s 14 stakes races will be staged on the grass, including seven graded stakes on turf over the final four days. Two of those will be Grade I events worth $300,000 each — the Hollywood Derby on Nov. 30 and Matriarch Stakes on Dec. 1.

East Coast-based trainer Chad Brown swept those two races last year, capturing the Hollywood with Raging Bull and the Matriarch with Uni. Jerkens is hopeful Uni may return to defend her title after the 4-year-old filly won the Breeders’ Cup Mile last week.

The first weekend features the $75,000 Kathryn Crosby Stakes on Friday, $75,000 Let it Ride Stakes on Saturday and $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes on Sunday.

———

Two high-profile jockeys will serve suspensions at the start of the fall meet.

Flavien Prat, the leading rider in the Del Mar summer meet, has been suspended for three days and will not ride on Saturday, Sunday and Thursday. Abel Cedillo, who shared his first Southern California riding title with Prat at the Santa Anita fall meet, is suspended Friday and Saturday.

———

©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

—————

PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):

Enter your email address and submit to receive RTD Sports emails each weekday morning

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Copyright 2019 Tribune Content Agency.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.