Santa Anita Workers Point to ‘Human Cost’ If Track Were to Shut Down Over Horse Deaths

"Back stretch" workers at Santa Anita Park gathered Thursday to voice support for safety measures taken at the horse-racing track in the wake of dozens of horse deaths, and to call attention to employees' possible plight if the venue were to be shut down.

In a statement, workers said they were "perplexed at how so much attention has been focused on accidental horse deaths while 59,000 people are struggling and imperiled due to homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles."

The track has employed hundreds of thousands of workers since it opened in 1934, the statement noted. Closing Santa Anita would have a "human cost," they explained.

"Our compassion for horses should also extend to the humans who care for them at Santa Anita Race Track. Our goal should be to strengthen protections for both,” said Oscar de la Torre, who organized a noon press conference.

Some workers who spoke out Thursday said they have a deep love for horse-racing and have compassion for the horses.

"They're so attached to these horses, and actually when something does goes bad they mourn like anyone else," Bob Baffert, a horse trainer at Santa Anita Park, told KTLA.

Sunday marks the last day of racing at Santa Anita, though the Arcadia track is open for practice into July, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The 29 horse deaths since late December have drawn intense attention but actually number fewer than in recent years.

PETA, which has targeted the track, issued a short response to the Thursday event.

"The backstretch workers have very little chance of continuing employment if horses keep dying. Safe horses mean safe jobs," PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said in an email. "If these workers don't already support continuing reform, they should get behind it right now."

PETA has called for the suspension of racing nationwide – and specifically in California until a task force formed by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey can complete its investigation into the deaths.

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