Santa Anita Park announced Wednesday that it has received approval from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to resume racing — without spectators — on Friday.
The Arcadia racetrack had been closed for live racing since March 27 in accordance with orders from the health department in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
Nine races are listed on the card for Friday.
Protocols instituted include mandatory face masks and daily health screening including temperature checks and mandatory “social distancing” while on the property, increased sanitation procedures, the creation of a “restricted zone” housing jockeys, valets and other essential personnel who must have a negative COVID-19 test to access, and pre-race protocol to increase physical distancing, according to Santa Anita officials.
Early last month, representatives pleaded with health officials to allow live racing to resume.
“Simply put, by ceasing live racing operations, we are jeopardizing the income stream for backstretch employees (racehorse caregivers) and the financial resources required to provide them and the horses they love with the care they both deserve,” Belinda Stronach, the chairman and president of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, stated in an open letter April 2.
The park has endured a storm of controversy since 37 horses died in racing or training incidents during the 2018-19 season, causing many animal rights activists to call for an end to the sport in California.
A months-long investigation by state regulators in 2019 found no evidence of illegal medications or procedures, but determined most of the horses had “pre-existing pathology,” according to a report by the California Horse Racing Board.
Horses have continued to die at the track during the current shutdown. Tailback, a 4-year-old gelding, died Sunday after a training accident, making him the 14th horse to die in racing or training-related incidents at Santa Anita this season, which began in late December.
Aidan Butler, executive director of California racing operations for TSG, said the organization wanted to thank its stakeholders, including the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the Jockeys Guild, its team at Santa Anita Park and fans for their patience during the pandemic.
“This has been a difficult time for all. Now we are focused on getting back to work in a safe and secure manner,” Butler said, noting that the organization was “very grateful for the open and continuous communication with both the Health Department and (County) Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office.”