Controversial Race Track Partially Reopening After 21 Horses Die


Santa Anita will reopen its main dirt track for limited training Monday nearly a week after the historic racetrack was closed to training and racing in the wake of 21 horses dying since Dec. 26.

Horses can only jog or gallop on the dirt; no timed workouts will be allowed.

“This track is in outstanding condition and it’s ready for training,” veteran track superintendent Dennis Moore said Saturday.

The racetrack remains closed indefinitely for racing.

Moore, along with Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Equine Program, has spent the last few days visually inspecting the one-mile oval, as well as analyzing soil samples and test data.

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“It’s been very helpful that we have not had any significant rain since this past Wednesday,” Moore said.

That’s allowed the dirt to be roto-tilled and aerated repeatedly in order to get a uniform consistency on the track’s top cushion, which is six inches deep.

Peterson has done testing that simulates the force and speed generated by the leading leg of a thoroughbred running at full speed. He’s gathered data that shows firmness, cushioning, grip and consistency from locations around the oval.

“It clearly indicates our cushion is right where it needs to be,” Moore said.

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Santa Anita announced new rules to scrutinize horses training on its racetrack and add a director of equine welfare in an effort to mitigate the series of catastrophic breakdowns.

The inner training track, which has not had any breakdowns, was open for horses to jog and gallop only on Saturday.

It was supposed to be a huge day of racing Saturday at the historic track. But the San Felipe Stakes for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls and the Santa Anita Handicap for older horses were scuttled when the track was closed on Tuesday.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, said the new safety and welfare measures will take effect when racing resumes in the coming weeks.

“What they’re trying to do is the right thing,” said Jim Cassidy, president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. “Just make sure everybody is accountable for their actions.”

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The new rules announced by Santa Anita’s owner TSG include requiring trainers to apply to hold timed workouts for their horses at least 24 hours in advance. Officials believe that will give track veterinarians time to identify potential at-risk horses through their past performances, workout date and physical inspection.

Cassidy lost a filly from his 40-horse stable after she was fatally injured on the turf course during the meet that began on Dec. 26. He said she broke her hind leg around a turn.

“I’m sure she took a bad step,” he said. “She never really had injuries at all.”

TSG says it has hired extra vets to observe all horses entering and exiting the dirt and turf course during morning training hours.

The morning training schedule will change, too.

The first 15 minutes of training after the dirt track opens, and each time its surface is renovated, will be reserved for horses completing official timed workouts. Officials say it will reduce the number of horses on the track at the same time and create a safer environment.

TSG plans to hire an accredited vet as the new director of equine welfare. That person will lead a rapid response team for injuries and conduct transparent investigations into the injury while communicating the findings to the racing and general public.

Santa Anita will require veterinary records of a horse to follow that animal through any ownership or trainer change. A similar rule is in effect at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, which is also owned by TSG.

“This has worked very well at Gulfstream Park,” Ritvo said. “There was some pushback from the trainers at first, but this is the best thing for the horse.”

Cassidy sees no problem with keeping a horse and its vet records together.

“Most of these horses stay in the same hands,” he said.

Ritvo said TSG will invest in any new technology or equipment that will help discover pre-existing injuries in horses.

Cassidy said any time a horse has an issue, trainers typically use X-rays, MRIs and nuclear scans to find a cause, as well as having their own vets and track vets look at the animals.

Jockeys also share information about horses they exercise in the mornings or ride in the afternoons.

“These horses change from day to day to day. We look at them every single day,” Cassidy said. “You’re always going to have injuries.”

Cassidy described the mood around Santa Anita’s stable area as “very somber.”

“We will press on,” he said, “and hopefully all of these new changes will make a difference.”

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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