The main track at Santa Anita Park is scheduled to reopen for limited training Monday, but it remains closed for racing indefinitely as officials work on implementing a series of safety protocols announced in the aftermath of 21 horse deaths at the facility since Dec. 26.
The protocols, which the owners of the famed racetrack announced Friday, are as follows:
— The creation of an equine-welfare position.
— Trainers who want to put a horse through timed, high-speed training exercises will be required to ask for permission 24 hours in advance. Officials said the move will help track veterinarians identify “at-risk” horses by evaluating past performance, workout data and physical inspections.
— The track has hired additional veterinarians “to observe all horses entering and exiting the tracks each morning during training hours.”
— The track is also instituting a “House Rule” requiring “complete transparency with regard to veterinary records,” requiring that the records follow the horse through changes in trainers or owners.
— Santa Anita also created the position of Director of Equine Welfare, which will be filled by an accredited veterinarian. The position will oversee “all aspects of equine well-being and will lead a Rapid Response team for injuries.” That team will investigate all factors contributing to the injury and share its findings with the public, track officials said.
“We’re looking forward to returning to normal, but it will be a new normal,” said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group. “The safety of our equine and human athletes remains our highest priority. We need to work together and continue to create not only our own internal audits, but an open and honest dialogue with all of the stakeholders and evaluate best practices at other racetracks around the world.”
Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, applauded the move Saturday.
“The enhanced safety measures and protocols being undertaken by Santa Anita are among the most progressive in all of horse racing. We applaud track officials for taking these important steps, which will lead to a safer racing environment for humans and equines.”
Monday’s training will be restricted to joggers and gallopers, track officials said. On Friday, Ritvo told Daily Racing Form that the light workouts could possibly be expanded to regular workouts by next weekend.
“We’ll start jogging and galloping for a few days and look to start working next weekend, if everything is good.”
The track has canceled the following four races:
— the China Doll Stakes, originally scheduled for March 9;
— the San Felipe Stakes, originally scheduled for March 9;
— the Santa Ysabel Stakes, originally scheduled for March 10;
— the Californian Stakes, originally scheduled for April 20.
Other races are likely to be either canceled or rescheduled.
Ritvo said that depending on the status of the track inspection and the weather, racing could potentially resume at the track on March 21 or March 22.
Former track superintendent Dennis Moore and Mick Peterson of Racing Services Testing Lab have been brought in to conduct a thorough analysis of the main track that officially began Thursday. But Moore and Peterson said their review of the infield training track determined it was ready for light work by horses, and the infield training track was reopened for jogging and gentle gallops Friday. None of the horse deaths at the facility involved injuries sustained on the training track.
The most recent fatality at the track occurred Tuesday morning, when a 4-year-old filly named Lets Light the Way was injured during training and had to be euthanized. That death — which led to the suspension of all racing and training activity at the park — was the 21st at Santa Anita since Dec. 26. Between December and February the previous year, only 10 horses died at the track, compared with eight in 2016-17 and 14 in 2015-16.
Santa Anita averaged more than 55 horse deaths per year from 2008-18, according to data from the California Horse Racing Board — a total of 553 deaths in all.
Some animal-advocacy groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have called for a halt to racing at the track and for investigations into the trainers and veterinary records of the horses that have died.
Last week, PETA called on the CHRB to investigate the trainers of all the horses who died in the last two months and review all veterinary records.
“If 19 football players died during one season, there would be hell to pay — and it would be an understatement to say that the NFL would be under scrutiny,” PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said. “If trainers know that horses are sore or injured, and they’re giving them painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sedatives to keep them running when they should be resting, the trainers are culpable in these deaths and should be charged with cruelty to animals.”