Racehorses killed in San Diego as fast-moving fire hits San Luis Rey Downs
Approximately 25 racehorses are feared to have died in San Diego after a fast-moving forest fire hit the San Luis Rey Downs training facility, destroying several barns.
On Friday the Southern Californian racing community came together as Del Mar's equine population suddenly grew to between 800 and 850 horses, causing this year's Breeders' Cup venue to issue a social media appeal for supplies, including shavings, blankets and lead ropes.
The actual number of fatalities remained only an estimate as horses were turned loose by stable staff in a bid to help them survive.
However, trainer Scott Hansen told Daily Racing Form: "I don't know the extent of the damage. I know I lost horses. I had 30 horses. My guy estimates at least eight to ten didn’t make it. That's a guess."
He added: "They were dropping the webbings to get them out of there. The palm trees caught fire above the barn. All hell broke loose real quick."
Aside from the equine fatalities, San Luis Downs trainer Martine Bellocq was taken to San Diego's UCSD Medical Center Hillcrest with burns on 50 per cent of her body, according to brother-in-law Remi Bellocq. She and her husband Pierre are understood to have lost three horses from their small stable and Bellocq was burned while trying to save them.
Peter Miller, who saddled two Breeders' Cup winners at Del Mar and has a runner in Hong Kong this weekend, is one of San Luis Rey Downs' most high-profile trainers and is thought to have been affected.
Miller's Breeders' Cup runner-up Richards Boy was found having been on a list of missing horses.
Richard Baltas and Doug O'Neill are other high-profile trainers with barns. Baltas has confirmed all of his horses were unharmed.
A post on O'Neill's Facebook page read: "Emergency evacuation happened almost immediately and at this time, we are doing all we can but it’s extremely difficult. We will update our owners as soon as we can. We ask that you please pray for all of us effected by this horrific event. Southern California horsemen need it right now. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all."
Explaining what happened, trainer Mike Machowsky told thoroughbreddailynews.com: "Some of the lower barns – portable barns – caught on fire. They turned horses loose to keep them out of the fire and they [were] running around on the track – that’s what I heard."
The California Horse Racing Board estimated approximately 25 racehorses had lost their lives in the incident.
Its statement said: "A fire erupted in northeast San Diego County Thursday afternoon and quickly engulfed approximately eight barns at the San Luis Rey training centre in Bonsall, where nearly 500 racehorses were stabled.
"An unknown number of horses were evacuated before fire authorities declared conditions unsafe for vehicles to enter the area to pick up the remaining horses. Individuals at SLR risked their lives in efforts to free the horses from their stalls and herd them into the safer infield area and training track.
"However, it is believed approximately 25 horses perished in the fire. When safe for the horse vans to again enter the facility, most of the remaining horses were taken 35 miles south to Del Mar Racetrack where personnel and volunteers are adequately caring for them.
"As of 7.30pm some 30 horses at SLR were still in the process of being evacuated and an unknown number of horses housed in pastures surrounding the property were unaccounted for as darkness prevented a thorough search of those areas.
"CHRB personnel will be on the scene early Friday to work with the professionals and volunteers at SLR. Los Alamitos Race Course announced that it is cancelling its Friday afternoon racing program out of respect for the horses and people involved."
Those on the ground estimate 75 per cent of the barns have been affected.
On Friday morning, Del Mar's Twitter feed was active with requests for tack and bedding, while Santa Anita asked local residents to donate clothing for grooms. In addition, Del Mar, Santa Anita and the Stronach Group started an online fundraising campaign - https://www.gofundme.com/thoroughbredcare - that at 10.30am local time had already raised €75,000 of its €250,000 target.
Among those with missing horses were high-profile owners Team Valor, who tweeted: "We have four San Luis Rey horses still unaccounted for. Please let us or trainer Peter Miller know if you see: Belvoir Bay - brand *43710, Cyrielle - S03251, Ever So True – S08871 and Hayabusa One - *44089. Thanks."
The Lilac fire has consumed an estimated 2,000 acres with winds of 40-60mph accelerating its progress and making it difficult for firefighters to control.