SAN DIEGO – Hundreds of elite thoroughbred racehorses, sprinted away from the flames Thursday as one of California’s huge wildfires tore through a training center in San Diego County.
Not all of them.
There was no official count of the number of animals were killed in the hazy confusion as the horses and the people evacuated, but the trainers at San Luis Rey Downs estimated that at least a dozen had died, possibly many more.
Horses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that are usually cautious, ran from place to place were just free and encouraged to walk away when the flames engulfed the centre in the vicinity of Bonsall, which is just a few kilometers from where the fire broke out.
Mac McBride, who was working with the centre of the trainers, said it was “total pandemonium when a few hundred horses were cut loose,” but he believes that most of the 450 horses stabled there survived. McBride, who works at the Del Mar race track, said that some of the horses were evacuated to the nearby racetrack, where many of them compete.
“There was so much smoke it was difficult to see,” said the horse trainer Than Durham, who got his 20 horses have been rounded up and had them in vans to be evacuated. “A number of the horses were turned loose so they can be safe. They were scattered around.”
San Luis Rey Downs is the home to horses that run in the nearby Del Mar, and other top-flight California tracks like Santa Anita Park. Doug O’neill, whose horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup races, is one of the trainers who hold at least a part of their stable.
The sign on the front calls it “the House of the Azerbaijani,” the now-retired mare who was 2002 US Horse of the Year who earned more than $4 million in her career.
Horse trainer Scott Hansen said that he knows that some of the 30 horses he had in the factory were killed.
“I don’t know how much his life is and how much his death,” Hansen said. “I think I will have to find out in the morning.” For now, he said that he was concentrating on getting his horses which survived until evacuation centers.
Another trainer, Cliff Sise, told KFMB-TV that he saw about 10 horses die, including his own daughter.
“It was dark, everything was hot and they would not come. I opened the pen and tried to get behind her and get her out, and she would not get out,” Sise said. “It burned fast.”
Dalton reported from Los Angeles.