It is the holiday season and a tragic fire storm that rolled through the San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall north of Del Mar last Thursday brought out the sometimes hidden spirit of unity throughout the horse racing industry.
As of Sunday afternoon, the fire resulted in a total of 46 equine fatalities, with several horses still missing.
Many trainers suffered injuries, too, the most severe being Martine Bellocq, who suffered burns over 50% of her body and was hospitalized in an induced coma because of the severe burns. Bellocq came out of her coma Saturday afternoon but has a long road on the way to recovery.
Trainer Joe Herrick was hospitalized with burn injuries, while trainer Cliff Sise was among many, including grooms and other horsemen from various stables at San Luis Rey Downs, who suffered burn injuries but continued to work to free the thoroughbreds from the burning barns.
Trainer Scott Hansen lost 15 of the 30 horses he had in training. Peter Miller lost one horse, Phil D’Amato lost two. Cliff Sise suffered losses, too, as did several lesser known trainers. In a couple of cases trainers with very small stables lost their entire barns.
In the face of all of the destruction and chaos, the horse racing industry came from far and wide to help.
Del Mar jumped right into action, opening their backstretch for any and all evacuated animals, not just thoroughbreds. In the blink of an eye the Del Mar backstretch that was closed and empty Thursday morning housed approximately 850 animals late Thursday night.
Local volunteers bedded down in the stalls, and calls went out for food for the horses and humans as well as tack, buckets, bedding, and clothing for those grooms who lost everything in the fire.
Los Alamitos owner Ed Allred and the Quarter Horse Benevolent Charitable Foundation will each donate $25,000, while Los Al Vice President Jack Liebau will donate $10,000 to the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation.
The Barretts Sales company will donate 10 percent of sales commissions from the upcoming Jan. 17 mixed sale at Pomona. Del Mar and Santa Anita started a Go Fund Me page (www.gofundme.com/thoroughbredcare) immediately.
The results of those efforts were volunteers pouring into the Del Mar stable area to unload hay, muck stalls, and distribute feed for both the horses and people. They set up areas where horsemen who needed blankets and clothes could pick up whatever they needed. Multiple veterinarians volunteered their services to all breeds of animals evacuated and remained a constant presence at their own expense.
The support of the racing industry was not just local. Coolmore Stud and Mike Repole will auction a season to top young sire Uncle Mo to benefit the Thoroughbred Charities America’s Horses First Fund. His advertised stud fee for 2018 is $125,000.
Taylor Made Farm and the syndicate behind California Chrome will auction off a season to their champion. The 2018 stud fee for California Chrome is $40,000.
Stonestreet Farm donated $10,000 and committed 10 percent of earnings from their runners over the next 10 days to go to the Horses First Fund. Machmer Hall and Sagamore Farm, also in Kentucky, matched the donation. Glen Hill Farm in Florida did the same.
Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale of Gallery Furniture in Houston, owner of Breeders Cup Sprint champion Run Happy, donated over 100 mattresses, box springs, and bed frames for the grooms working at Del Mar.
B. Wayne Hughes, owner of Spendthrift Farm, volunteered a plane so professional horse people from the Lexington Kentucky area could assist and bring donated supplies.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Go Fund Me page had generated over $558,000.
There were approximately 460 horses in training at San Luis Rey Downs at the time of the fire storm. While 46 have perished, a significant amount of the other horses evacuated suffered varying degrees of injuries, and it may be too soon to tell how many of the survivors suffered significant lung damage from smoke inhalation.
The result of the fire may have a serious impact on the already limited race-ready horse population for Southern California. Affected trainers Peter Miller, Richard Baltas, Doug O’Neill, and Phil D’Amato fill the entry box with regularity, so just how serious the population decrease really is will likely be exposed once the Santa Anita meet opens the day after Christmas.
Stabling could be an issue until the nine San Luis Rey Downs barns that were destroyed in the fire can be rebuilt. Galway Downs in Temecula may be the only option for the displaced horses, as the Santa Anita and Los Alamitos barn areas are full and Del Mar is only open on a temporary basis and not available as a year round stabling option.
Based on the way the horsemen and public came together in the face of last week’s adversity, I believe everyone will continue to work together to put on the best product possible and do what is best for the California racing industry as a whole.
That alone is a true holiday gift for me.
Play of the Week
Los Alamitos, Thursday. Race 5: Regulate (post 9). Bob Baffert-trained first-time starter has been working with Solomini, who was disqualified from victory in the Grade-I Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity last Saturday. Looking forward to watching this 2-year-old debut on Thursday after his race was cancelled last Friday at Los Alamitos due to the tragic fires at San Luis Rey Downs. He is jockey Mike Smith’s only mount all day long.