03/18/2019 17:17 EDT

District Attorney Investigating 22 Horse Deaths At California Racetrack

The investigation comes as the Santa Anita track prepares to resume live racing but with new rules in place.

Horse racing is preparing to resume at California’s Santa Anita racetrack as the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office helps investigate mysterious fatal injuries to 22 horses at the park over three months.

Additional testing on the Arcadia park’s main track has deemed it “safe and ready for racing,” giving a green light for live races to resume on March 29 with approval by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), park spokesperson Mark Willman told HuffPost in an email on Monday.

The news follows the DA’s office on Friday announcing that it is working with the CHRB, which regulates the racing industry, as it investigates the horse deaths.

FREDERIC J. BROWN via Getty Images
A tractor is driven at the Santa Anita Racetrack where races were suspended after multiple horse deaths. The track has since been deemed “safe and ready for racing."

“We’re working in conjunction with each other as a joint investigation,” Shawn Loehr, the board’s chief of enforcement who is heading the investigation, said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. “We are cooperating fully with the District Attorney’s Office. We will not be providing any additional details about the ongoing, confidential investigation.”

The CHRB noted that the board performs a necropsy on any horse that dies within a CHRB-licensed facility. Any violations of CHRB rules or California law can result in a complaint.

“The CHRB can and does use subpoena power when necessary. The Official Veterinarian, Safety Steward, Equine Medical Director and CHRB investigators all can be involved in this process,” the board said in an email.

Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
A rider is seen on a training track at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia on Friday, March 08.

The DA announced its investigation one day after a 3-year-old filly suffered a fatal injury after crossing the finish line during a half-mile workout at the park on Thursday, raising the number of deaths since December 26 to 22, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier this month, the racetrack twice suspended races as they investigated the track for possible anomalies that may have caused the injuries. It later announced that it would ban same-day medications to horses as well as the use of riding crops, which are a type of whip.

“We have arrived at a watershed moment,” said Belinda Stronach, president of The Stronach Group, which owns the track, said of the decision to enhance racetrack regulations.

Mario Tama via Getty Images
Animal rights activists protest horse racing deaths outside Santa Anita Park on March 10 in Arcadia, California.

The additional regulations include:

  • Increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy and anabolic steroids.
  • Complete transparency of all veterinary records.
  • Significantly increasing out-of-competition testing.
  • Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race.
  • A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
  • Horses in training are only allowed therapeutic medication with a qualified veterinary diagnosis.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which helped lead protests against the park in wake of the deaths, applauded the rule changes on Sunday and described itself as “relieved” by the news.

“PETA will be watching very closely to see that these changes are implemented and the public will join us in watching what happens to the horses,” said PETA’s Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo in a statement.

Guillermo went on to offer a blunt warning to horse owners: “If one more horse dies, there will be blood on the owners’ hands and hell to pay.”