Santa Anita Park is scheduled to resume horse racing Thursday in the wake of a rash of horse deaths that prompted the track to close this week for soil inspection.
The track remained closed to training Wednesday after officials decided late Tuesday not to re-open it as planned. But late Wednesday, park officials said analyst conducting tests of the racing surface had declared it ready for reopening.
Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky, who evaluates the track’s soil on a monthly basis, said the track is “100 percent ready” for racing to resume.
“The ground-penetrating radar verified all of the materials, silt, clay and sand, as well as moisture content, are consistent everywhere on this track,” Peterson said. “This testing ensures all components, the 5-inch cushion, pad and base are consistent and in good order.”
A horse died during training at the track Monday morning — the 19th death of a horse at Santa Anita since Dec. 26.
The Los Angeles Times reported that during the same two-month period last year, 10 horses died at Santa Anita, in 2016-17 there were eight and in 2015-16 there were 14.
Charmer John, a 3-year-old gelding, was euthanized after he suffered a catastrophic injury to his left front fetlock on Monday.
The abnormal amount of rain that has fallen over Southern California this winter is considered a likely factor to any difficulty with the track, with some 11 1/2 inches of rain falling in February alone.
Peterson said track superintendent Andy LaRocco “inspected the entire oval and has made sure that by pulling the soil (cushion) off and reapplying it, this surface is in face 100 percent consistent and ready for training and racing.”
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Santa Anita switched the surface of its 1-mile main track to “El Segundo sand” in 2014, excavated from a construction project near Los Angeles International Airport.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns the racetrack, issued a statement Tuesday saying “we consider the safety and security of the athletes, both equine and human, who race at our facilities to be our top priority.”
“All industry stakeholders, including our company, must be held accountable for the safety and security of the horses and we are committed to doing just that,” he said.
The main track will open for training at 5 a.m., while the inner track will open at 4:45 p.m. Racing will begin at 1 p.m.
The Times reported that track officials had decided Sunday to close the track on Monday and Tuesday, but reversed course later that day in response to complaints from some trainers, including Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer, who objected to the closure and said they thought the track was safe.
Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said: “The decisions to close and reopen the track were made without consultation with our group and without us hearing the arguments, pro and con. With that said, we are committed to offering all the support we can to ensure the safety of our horses, jockeys and workers and stand ready to do whatever we can to help solve this tragic set of circumstances.”
Representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said they canceled a planned protest at Santa Anita race track Tuesday, “after meeting with track representatives who pledged to take definitive steps, including extending the review of medication records to horses who are in training — and not just before races,” said David W. Perle, assistant media manager for PETA.
“Research sponsored by the California Horse Racing Board shows why horses break down and the fault lies with the trainers and veterinarians who drug horses with a cocktail of anti-inflammatories, painkillers, sedatives and more to keep them running when they should be recuperating,” Perle said. “This masks soreness and injury — and injured horses are vulnerable to broken bones. Horses who require medication should not be anywhere near a track. PETA believes that there are innumerable problems with horse racing, but, as a bare minimum, all medications should be banned for at least a week before a horse races or trains, which would effectively stop lame horses from being able to run. PETA will continue to meet with Santa Anita officials in the coming days.”
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