ARCADIA, Calif. — The most critical racing meeting in the 85-year history of Santa Anita racetrack opened on Friday amid a swirl of new safety measures, personnel changes and nerves.

Thirty horses died at the racetrack in a six-month stretch that ended in late June, so the Stronach Group — the track’s owner — rolled out a series of reforms designed to better protect the thoroughbreds from catastrophic injury and put government authorities, animal-rights activists and the public as a whole at ease.

On Saturday, however, a 3-year-old colt named Emtech collapsed in the stretch with both his front legs broken and had to be euthanized, which, if history is any indication, will most likely renew doubts about the industry’s will to reform and lead to calls for the sport to be closed altogether.

It was the 32nd horse fatality (one died earlier in the month while training) at the famed California racetrack since December, and it came just days after Gov. Gavin Newsom called the deaths a “disgrace.” He warned that horse racing was dangerously close to being out of business in his state.

And yet Santa Anita’s problems are hardly isolated. The horse deaths here have put a bull’s-eye on the sport and focused unwanted attention on other racing circuits that are having, or have had, deadly race meets.

Nearly 10 horses a week on average died at American racetracks in 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. That figure is anywhere from two and a half to five times greater than the fatality rate in Europe and Asia, where rules against performance-enhancing drugs are enforced more stringently.

At Belmont Park in New York, home of the Belmont Stakes, there have been seven fatalities because of injuries over the past 18 race days — four in afternoon racing and three in morning training hours. On Friday, the Keeneland fall meet, an elite and highly anticipated race meeting in Lexington, Ky., will open amid heightened anxiety after a troubling rash of horse fatalities in its spring meet.

Keeneland had four race-related deaths — three on dirt and one on turf — over the course of its 16 racing days, for a rate of 3.12 fatalities per 1,000 starts, or almost twice the national average.

California has adopted some of the most aggressive drug and safety reforms in the nation, but the death of Emtech on Saturday is likely to give fuel to skeptics who wonder if the track has gone far enough to create a safer environment and whether the members of the California Horse Racing Board are up to the task of policing the sport. Earlier this month, The New York Times revealed that the 2018 Triple Crown champion, Justify, had failed a drug test before the Kentucky Derby, but that those regulators secretly decided not to pursue any punishment.

Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called on the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office to release the findings of a continuing investigation into the horse deaths in California. Guillermo and PETA have been working closely with the Stronach Group and regulators on rule changes.

“Tragically, we have no answers, no mandate for the use of CT scan technology to detect the pre-existing injuries that cause broken ankles, no switch to safer synthetic tracks — which PETA has requested — and no end in sight to the deaths,” she said in a statement. “The horses may not get a funeral, but racing is certainly digging its own grave.

Emtech had a history of physical problems.

In October 2018, the colt was claimed — or purchased for the price of $75,000 — by another owner after his debut race at Santa Anita. Standard procedure calls for state veterinarians to inspect any horse whose ownership changes. After that inspection, Emtech was found to be unsound, and the sale was voided.

The colt was then placed on a list for observation by state veterinarians. He remained there until June, when he passed the required workout for removal from the list, according to California regulators.

He was on the panel’s special post-entry and pre-raceday examination list for a race in July at Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, Calif., and one in August at Del Mar near San Diego.

“After passing 5 examinations and racing successfully for those races, he was not flagged by the panel for special attention in his subsequent races other than his required pre-race examinations,” Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for California, said in a statement.

Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinarian for the Stronach Group, said the company would “open an immediate review into what factors could have contributed to Emtech’s injury.”

In New York, the state’s gaming commission said that “nothing has gone wrong” in its safety and medication protocols.

In 2012, after 21 horses died at tracks run by the New York Racing Association over a similar time span as Santa Anita’s, a government-appointed task force issued a critical report on how industry officials prioritized filling races over ensuring that horses were fit. Stricter medication rules and safety protocols were put in place.

Despite its best efforts, the gaming commission says it cannot eliminate catastrophic injuries in the sport.

“The commission’s risk management program includes real-time risk assessment, the development and testing of protective factors to reduce risk, and follow-up monitoring to ensure progressive reduction of racing injuries, but it will not eliminate equine injuries,” the commission said in a statement.

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