The bad luck haunting California horse racing that began with a Santa Anita winter meet resulting in 30 horse deaths between Dec. 26 and June 23—and a flood of outrage from the public, some racing fans and finally California politicians—continued Thursday, the day after the opening of Del Mar’s 80th meeting, when two horses collided head-on accidentally during morning training.

Both horses died on the track as a result of cervical fractures according to California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) Medical Director Dr. Rick Arthur. CHRB oversees racing at all California tracks. It was unstated if they died immediately from their injuries or were euthanized on the track.

Del Mar spokesperson Dan Smith said Bob Baffert-trained three-year-old Carson Valley and two-year-old Charge A Bunch were killed after colliding at 6:30 a.m. when Charge A Bunch, trained by Carla Gaines, threw jockey Giovanni Franco during a workout and bolted in the opposite direction, striking Carson Valley head-on at full speed.

The incident was initially reported in a statement from Del Mar:

“We are sad to confirm two horses, Charge A Bunch and Carson Valley, suffered fatal injuries after a collision during morning training. We are deeply sorry for the horses and their owners, trainers, riders and grooms. — Del Mar Racetrack (@DelMarRacing)”

“We work every day to take the best care of our horses,” said Baffert following the incident. “Freak accidents like this do occur and are beyond anyone’s control. The whole barn is in shock.”

Franco was uninjured after being unseated, but Carson Valley jockey Assael Espinoza was taken to a local hospital complaining of lower back pain.

Assael Espinoza ©Santa Anita Park

Espinoza’s agent, Brian Beach, later tweeted:

“Happy to say @assael_espinoza got lucky and escaped this morning’s collision without major injury. He has a bruised lower back. @DelMarRacing— Brian Beach (@Cougzag)”

Espinoza is the nephew of Hall-of-Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, himself injured seriously in a fall last year.

Gaines later released a statement in which she wrote in part the collision was “…the likes of which I have not experienced in over 30 years training racehorses. Our whole barn is still in shock and grieving the loss of the horses, and my heart goes out to both of their owners, Bob and his team. We appreciate all those that continue to support us and our industry.”

Charge A Bunch was an unraced son of Will Take Charge, the $3.9 million winner of six graded stakes races including the Travers in 2013, the year he was named Eclipse Champion Three Year Old Male. He has stood at Three Chimneys Farm, Kentucky since 2015.

Carson Valley was an unraced son of Distorted Humor, the Leading Freshman Sire in 2002, Leading U.S. Sire in 2011 and Leading U.S. Broodmare Sire in 2017. He has stood at WinStar Farm, Kentucky since 1999.

Photographs were not available for either of the fatally injured horses.

Del Mar has been among the safest tracks in the country for horses, recording 0.79 horse deaths per 1,000 starts last year according to the Jockey Club Equine Injury database. The national average last year was 1.68 deaths per 1,000 starts among tracks that report fatalities according to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

In 2016, there were 17 fatalities at Del Mar. Its dirt track was remade before the 2017 season. There were five fatalities that year and six in 2018. The track also installed radiology and ultrasound equipment to pre-determine horses at risk of injury.

Nonetheless, controversy regarding the continuation of horse racing in California has continued, becoming especially heated following the deaths at Santa Anita this season.

Racing at Del Mar. ©Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a statement following Thursday’s incident requesting the fatalities at Del Mar be fully investigated by the CHRB. That governing body was given authority in a bill signed last month by California Governor Gavin Newsom to unilaterally end horse racing immediately at any California track deemed unsafe or in violation of CHRB regulations and practices.

“PETA requests that Del Mar and all other California racetracks release records of horses who have gotten loose on the tracks and urges the CHRB to launch a full investigation in order to eliminate the dangers of training,” PETA senior vice president Kathy Guillermo said.

“Saying that deaths are inevitable in racing is like saying a swim team can’t compete without drowning,” continued Guillermo’s statement. “If racing can’t be done without horses dying, it shouldn’t be done at all.”

Dr. Arthur responded saying the horses will undergo necropsies at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory in San Bernardino to establish a definitive cause of death. The necropsies are in accordance with standard operating procedures for the state and the CHRB after a race horse’s death.