Horse deaths at Golden Gate Fields keep adding up at Bay Area’s final racetrack

BERKELEY — Fifteen horses have now died at Golden Gate Fields racetrack so far in 2023 — a rising toll that continues to cloud the final months of operation at the Bay Area’s last standing racetrack.

The latest equine fatality was on Oct. 30, when 6-year-old thoroughbred Kind Of Gallant passed away during a training session, according to records from the California Horse Racing Board’s equine fatalities database. His cause of death has not yet been released.

Kind Of Gallant was the seventh horse to die within a 40-day span since late September at Golden Gate Fields, located along the shoreline at 1100 Eastshore Hwy.

Of the 72 deaths that have occurred across seven different California race tracks so far in 2023, roughly 20% have occurred at Golden Gate Fields.

However, there does not appear to be a consistent pattern connecting the deaths or any one trainer involved in a disproportionate number of fatalities at the storied racetrack, which has straddled the border between Berkeley and Albany since 1941.

Five of the last seven horse deaths — Kind Of Gallant, Gardees World, Weeping Willows, Hangin At Haven and Zakkiyyah — are still listed as “pending.” The other two horses, Great Story and Navy Queen, died after breaking bones in their legs, while others earlier in 2023 died off the track from gastrointestinal issues, neurological complications or passed away in a “sudden death.”

The rising death toll has continued to raise concerns among the racing community, as well as stoke protests from animal rights advocates.

Officials with the California Horse Racing Board said this summer that recent efforts to increase safety measures — focused primarily on preventable, musculoskeletal injuries — have successfully protected more of the 8,000 to 10,000 horses that train and race at CHRB-regulated facilities each year.

The state recorded only 26 deaths by the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year on June 30; the death toll was 39 the year prior.

“That’s still too many fatalities,” CHRB chairman Greg Ferraro said in statement, “but it shows that all of the new regulations, policies, and procedures that we’ve introduced in cooperation with the industry have had a significant effect.”

Yet, Golden Gate Fields’ owner, the Stronach Group, abruptly announced in July that its Bay Area racetrack would permanently shutter at the end of 2023. The company said the decision will allow them to “double down” on work running training facilities at San Luis Rey Downs’ and the Santa Anita Park racetrack.

The group recently extended Golden Gate Fields’ operations through June 2024, following months of industry negotiations and pending legislation that regulates revenue streams.

That closure timeline is still not fast enough to quell groups like Direct Action Everywhere and Stop Bloodsports, which have continued to advocate for Golden Gates Fields’ closure online and protest directly outside the racetrack.

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