Santa Anita Park is scheduled to resume horse racing on 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 on Wednesday after officials decided late Tuesday not to re-open it as planned.
On Sunday, Santa Anita announced it was closing the track on Monday and Tuesday for surface and soil sampling, one day before another horse died during training Monday morning when that decision was apparently revoked, and that death was the 19th death of a horse at Santa Anita since Dec. 26, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The newspaper also 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.
Mick Peterson, a track and safety expert from the University of Kentucky, was brought in this week to perform testing and evaluate the racing surfaces, and he told the racing blog Bloodhorse.com that training was canceled Wednesday to allow for “ground-penetrating radar” tests and so that the track can be “fully mixed.”
Peterson said the main track’s top cushion layer was “peeled back” Tuesday to examine the track’s base, and he was “not seeing any problems.”
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, reportedly reversed a decision made earlier in the day Sunday and agreed to allow the track to be open Monday until 9 a.m. after some trainers, including Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer, objected to the closure and said they thought the track was safe.
“In conjunction with the California Horse Racing Board, Santa Anita Park has announced its main track will be closed for training beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday and all day Tuesday in order to fully evaluate sub-surface conditions such as moisture content and soil consistency,” the park said in a statement Sunday that made no mention of any horse deaths. “If the results of these efforts indicate the track is in prime condition, regularly scheduled training will resume Wednesday morning and live racing will proceed on Thursday.”
Sunday’s statement went on to say that “in order to accommodate horsemen tomorrow, the main track will open for training beginning at 5 a.m., with two regular renovations scheduled at 6 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. Santa Anita’s training track will be open each morning as planned, at 4:45 a.m. and will stay open until 10:30 a.m.”
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.”
“These are thousand-pound animals going close to 40 miles per hour,” said Rick Arthur, medical director of the California Horse Racing Board, the Daily News reported. “So if you don’t have a consistent surface, it can be hazardous.”
CHRB data show that 553 horses died at Santa Anita from the 2008 to the 2018 seasons, an average of more than 55 per year.
“We’ve put a lot of effort into safety and had a very, very good year last year,” Arthur said. “We’ve clearly taken a step back and hopefully it’s a blip on the radar because of the weather. That’s our expectation, but no matter what it is, we’re going to make it better.”
Battle of Midway, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner of 2017, was euthanized Saturday morning after suffering injuries sustained during a workout, according to Santa Anita’s Ed Golden.
“A five-year-old bay son of Smart Strike trained by Jerry Hollendorfer for Don Alberto Stable or WinStar Farm, LLC, Battle of Midway was being pointed to the $12 million Dubai World Cup on March 30 with a possible start before that in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 9, (trainer Jerry) Hollendorfer had said just prior to the incident,” Golden said Saturday.
Battle of Midway won eight of 16 career starts, and was third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
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.”