SAN MATEO — A San Rafael-based animal rights group called Monday for Bay Meadows Race Track to shut down, citing the deaths of two horses in races held Thursday.

Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, said managers of the track were negligent in taking care of the dirt racecourse, a charge that Tom Ferrall, publicity manager for Bay Meadows, called "unfair" and "totally incorrect."

Running Thursday on a rain-soaked track, Dancing Rose and Skum went down with broken legs in the first two races of the day and were euthanized, leading to the rest of the day's races to be canceled.

In Defense of Animals opposes thoroughbred horseracing in general, claiming the sport endangers and abuses the animals. Regarding Bay Meadows, Katz said the events Thursday appear "to have been handled in a sloppy fashion."

Ferrall disputed that claim, saying track officials did the best they could to prepare the course, despite several days of rain.

"I think it's totally incorrect," Ferrall said. "Bay Meadows has been known to be a racetrack that handles wet weather as well as any track around."

Track superintendent Bob Turman said the top three inches of the track were saturated with water Thursday. The cold weather conditions prevented the track from drying out, Turman added.

"In cold weather, the moisture stays underneath; it won't release and come up," said Turman, whose crew worked until around 2 a.m. Friday to ready the track for that day's races.

Although the weather has improved since Thursday, the injury rate at Bay Meadows has not. One horse was euthanized Sunday and a second was put down Monday, the last day of Bay Meadows' fall season of live racing.

Ferrall said that 12 horses have been euthanized at Bay Meadows since Dec. 26, 2005, from among 5,597 race participants.

"It's a bad thing to happen, but it happens," said Turman, who said he has seen conditions at the track that were "much worse" than those that contributed to the fatal accidents Thursday.

"Unfortunately, that happens everywhere and it's never a good thing," Ferrall said.

Katz said the fatal injuries that are endemic to horse racing are reason enough to shut the industry down. He also cited reports of horses being given drugs and sold to slaughterhouses.

"Bottom line is, there's so much beneath the surface of horseracing that the public doesn't realize," Katz said.

Ken White, president of the Peninsula Humane Society, said Monday that he was unaware of Thursday's incidents. He said the society would get involved with the track only if it received specific complaints about animals being mistreated.

Staff writer Aaron Kinney can be reached at (650) 348-4302 or by

email at akinney@sanmateocountytimes.com.