A fast-spreading wildfire descended rapidly on the San Luis Rey Downs training facility in Bonsall, California Thursday afternoon, leaving horsemen with no choice but to turn horses loose on the property to avoid the flames.
Mac McBride, who was working with the center's trainers, said it was, "total pandemonium when several hundred horses were cut loose", but he believes most of the about 450 horses stabled there survived. Barns have burned down. But there was a time there in the middle of the action where it seemed like numerous horses would never stop moving long enough to be coaxed in the right direction. He estimates 8-10 have died.
As the fire approached, scores of horses were let out of their stalls to run loose on the property, primarily on the infield of the training track, to get them out of the barns. "It was a last resort. Even though you shoo 'em out, they want to go back", Thrash said. "It still hasn't sunk in".
Sise tried to rescue some of the horses from Hansen's burning barn.
"I heard them screaming, so I was able to get the webbing off of some, but the fire was so bad, I couldn't get to them all", Sise said. At least one fire truck was on site with helicopters hovering above.
Billy Koch, founder and managing partner of Little Red Feather Racing club, told The Blood-Horse that they lost Oddsmaker, their best 2-year-old, in the blaze. "I don't know what to do with myself".
Various reports indicated that the fire crossed some of the main roads around the training center.
Cigar, who at the time of his retirement was North American racing's leading money victor, was trained early in his career at San Luis Rey Downs. Eventually, most calmed down enough to be loaded onto trailers destined for the stables at Del Mar Fairgrounds. I saw two horses burn to death, running around on fire. "A lot of them just didn't get out of their stalls and got asphyxiated". He thinks they probably died from smoke inhalation. He said he was unsure of the status of several of his horses.
"There's a lot of dead horses", he said. "It's going to be a while before everyone finds their horses".
Trainer Adam Kitchingman said Thursday night that his horses and barn were safe.
An area immediately north of the training center was ordered evacuated before 2 p.m.
Rothblum and O'Neill were traveling to San Luis Rey Downs from the Los Angeles area in late afternoon.
"I have horses with Michelle Dollase there".
Officials in Del Mar said evacuees are encouraged to bring bedding, feed and horse identification. "We're very lucky, but feel for those who weren't as fortunate".
Britney Eurton, a reporter with horse-racing channel TVG, tweeted that Del Mar officials were preparing to take in as many San Luis Rey horses as possible. "We're open to anything with four legs". Those that were evacuated are being accepted at the Del Mair Fair Grounds about 30 miles South.
This story will be updated.