Thoroughbred horses killed in Lilac fire

Barn 615x400

Barn 615x400

Terrified, the sleek speedsters stampeded through Bonsall's San Luis Rey Downs horse-training facility, whinnying, rolling their eyes and thundering through thick smoke as the Lilac Fire quickly consumed the barns where they had spent the morning serenely munching hay.

"I opened the pen and tried to get behind her and get her out, and she wouldn't get out", horse trainer Cliff Sise told San Diego's KFMB-TV.

A post on O'Neill's Facebook page indicated that O'Neill's assistant Leandro Mora was on site at San Luis Rey to assist with the evacuation process. "There have been casualties".

"Some of the lower barns-portable barns-caught on fire", Machowsky said, relaying a phone conversation he had with trainer Michele Dollase a half-hour earlier.

Keith Brackpool, the chairman of Santa Anita which owns San Luis Rey Downs, said stable personnel had no choice but to let horses loose to get them away from the barns. Keith Brackpool, chairman of West Coast operations for The Stronach Group at Santa Anita, noted that transportation between tracks was made hard because the fire around San Luis Rey necessitated significant road closures.

Trainer Richard Baltas said his barn is intact and all of his horses are in their stalls.

Billy Koch of Little Red Feather Racing said Oddsmaker, an unraced 2-year-old, also died in the fire.

Several trainers said some of their horses were killed at the facility.

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Television pictures showed a herd of about 50 horses running freely on the track's infield, Jerkens said.

Steve Rothblum, who works closely with trainer Doug O'Neill, said their stable got "six to 15" horses off the property before sheriff's officials put a halt to traffic because of the flames. "Even though you shoo 'em out, they want to go back", Thrash said. "We turned a lot loose on the infield of the training track in hope".

San Luis Rey Downs was bolstered by $5 million worth of improvements in 2013.

According to a 2013 story in the Daily Racing Form, San Luis Rey Downs was built in the late 1960s to be a parimutuel racing facility by C. Arnholt Smith and John Alessio, who meant to "wrest the choice summer racing dates away from the track at the Del Mar Fairgrounds".

"He said it was like an end-of-the-world scene", Rothblum said.

Del Mar chief operating officer Josh Rubenstein said the racetrack is open to any evacuated horses from San Luis Rey and will have no problems handling the full capacity of the training center, which has between 400-500 horses stabled there. Conditions resulted in a local state of emergency by the County of San Diego.

At first, the barn evacuation was orderly, with trainers doing all they could to coax the glossy and muscular bunch up a slight rise that connected the stables to the track. Pacific. At 2:30 p.m., highway 76 was closed in both directions.

Various reports indicated that the fire crossed some of the main roads around the training center.

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