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California governor backs suspensions after racing deaths

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Los Angeles (AFP)

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday backed legislation which would give local authorities greater power to suspend horse racing licenses following a spate of fatalities at the famed Santa Anita track.

A total of 26 horses have died at Santa Anita this year, an unusually high death toll that has baffled safety experts.

California legislators have tabled a bill that would give the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) the power to suspend licences in an effort to protect horses and riders.

"The recent horse fatalities in California are unacceptable," Newsom said in a statement.

"We must hold the horse racing industry to account. If we can regulate horse race meets, we should have the authority to suspend licenses when animal or human welfare is at risk."

The CHRB has already launched investigations into the Santa Anita deaths, and suspended use of 11 previously lawful corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory medications from being used on race horses on race days.

Animal rights campaigners have said the drugs were leading to injured horses being raced, putting them at greater risk of death or serious injury.

New regulations going into effect in July will also expand out-of-competition testing, giving the board the power to prosecute offenders who abuse prescribed medications.

The Los Angeles Times meanwhile on Wednesday called for Santa Anita to be closed for the remainder of the racing season.

"At the end of the day, there may be no good explanation for the surge in deaths at Santa Anita," the paper wrote in an editorial.

"It may simply be a stomach-churning cost of doing business. The question that looms for all racetrack and horse owners is, how much death is the public willing to tolerate as 'normal'?"

The editorial noted that with the bulk of the racing for the season already completed, there was no need to "risk a 27th death."

"While this investigation continues, Santa Anita should stop risking horses' lives and halt the racing season now," it added.

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