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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Death toll of horses in devastating blaze rises above 40

Terrified horses gallop from San Luis Rey Downs as the Lilac Fire sweeps through the horse training facility on Thursday in San Diego
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More than 40 horses are now believed to have perished in the devastating barn fires that swept through the stabling area at the San Luis Rey Downs training centre in southern California on Thursday.

As fundraising to help horses and humans affected by the tragedy soared to more than €400,000, Del Mar and Santa Anita became temporary homes to nearly 500 displaced thoroughbreds.

The fire, first reported late Thursday morning local time, spread rapidly in a westward direction, destroying at least eight barns and forcing racing professionals to set loose animals who then tried to flee the flames and smoke.

California Horse Racing Board chairman Chuck Winner visited San Luis Rey Downs on Friday and told that attempting to put a precise figure on the number of horses killed was still impossible. However, trainer Scott Hansen has reported that 15 of his 30 horses died.

"We don’t know how many yet,” said Winner. "The estimates are above 40 to 42, I think. Those are just estimates.

"The problem is the vans were taking those horses in the night and taking them to farms around Bonsall. Some of them haven’t been accounted for yet.”

The ravaged track is owned by the Stronach Group, parent company of Santa Anita, which, like fellow Breeders' Cup venue Del Mar, has become a rescue centre.

"This is a horrific situation and everybody is trying to pitch in and do whatever can be done to make things better," said Tim Ritvo, Stronach chief operating officer.

"The outpouring of support from inside and outside of our industry has been truly heartwarming. Together, we’ll get through this.”

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club president Joe Harper added: "We’re here to help when a tragic situation like this presents itself.

"With aid from our landlord, the 22nd District Agricultural Association, we’re going to begin serving as a training centre tomorrow morning and will continue on that path for the immediate future as our industry puts the pieces back together again."

Trainer Scott Hansen, who had 30 horses in training at San Luis Rey Downs, revealed that half his barn, 15 runners, had perished.

“I basically lost half my barn,” Hansen said. “It’s horrible.”

Hansen, who reported that the horses who survived were found at a number of nearby facilities, added: “It’s apocalyptic, corpses everywhere. There’s no tack left, nothing.”

Money can be donated to the support effort at

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This is a horrific situation and everybody is trying to pitch in and do whatever can be done to make things better

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Santa Anita Del Mar
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