A deserted Santa Anita racetrack in California, where a 22nd horse died Thursday following a spike of fatalities since December 26

Los Angeles (AFP) - A 22nd horse has died at California’s Santa Anita racetrack, officials confirmed Thursday, dealing a fresh blow to the course as it reels from a sharp rise in equine fatalities.

The Daily Racing Form website reported that three-year-old filly Princess Lili B broke down near the finish line on Santa Anita’s main track.

The horse was euthanised after being diagnosed with two broken front legs, making her the 22nd horse to die at Santa Anita since December 26.

“We’re just perplexed by what has happened, and devastated,” Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for Santa Anita’s owners The Stronach Group told Fox 11 television after the fatality.

“We have complete confidence in the track, with the greatest track crew in America, and it’s just a devastating time for all of us,” Ritvo said, adding it was too early to say how the horse suffered its injuries.

“The rider said the filly felt fine, and then all of a sudden, just went bad,” Ritvo said.

The fatality is another hammer blow to Santa Anita, the famed course outside Los Angeles which will host the prestigious Breeders Cup international meeting in November.

The latest injury occurred during a training run. Racing at Santa Anita has been suspended indefinitely since March 5.

Officials had been targeting a reopening of the track on March 22 following an investigation into the surface by safety experts last week.

The California Horse Racing Board said in a statement it continued to monitor the situation and noted the crisis would be discussed at a meeting on March 21.

“Like so many others, the California Horse Racing Board is greatly disturbed by this latest fatality and is committing its resources to helping identify the cause or causes of these fatalities and taking remedial action as necessary,” Mike Marten, the spokesman for the state racing authority, said in a statement.

“This matter is on the agenda for the Board’s March 21 public meeting.”