Santa Anita Park Suspends Horse Races and Training After 21 Horses Deaths In Just 10 Weeks

The group that owns the track has brought in an expert to examine the dirt surface of the course

Photo: Keith Birmingham/Digital First Media/Pasadena Star-News via Getty

Santa Antia Park, a thoroughbred race track in Arcadia, California, has suspended all live racing and training at the facility indefinitely.

This announcement came from the The Stronach Group, which owns the track, on Tuesday, following the death of a horse at the track. A 4-year-old filly got injured during training on Tuesday and was euthanized shortly after, reports The Associated Press. This was the 21st horse to die at Santa Anita Park in the past 10 weeks.

“Obviously, one horse is too many,” Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer at The Stronach Group told AP. “The recent rash is just horrible. We need to definitely take a step back and evaluate everything.”

The Stronach Group is using the suspension to bring in an expert to have the dirt surface of the track evaluated.

“The safety, health and welfare of the horses and jockeys is our top priority,” Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer, The Stronach Group, said in a statement for the track’s website. “While we are confident further testing will confirm the soundness of the track, the decision to close is the right thing to do at this time.”

Trackman Dennis Moore is conducting the testing on the track, which will “expand on the ground radar testing conducted earlier this week by the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Mick Peterson. Measures will include utilizing an Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester, a device that mimics the impacts of a horse running at full gallop allowing engineers to see how the track holds up. These test results will be evaluated to ensure track consistency and uniformity for both training and racing.”

Santa Anita Park and all of its safety protocols will also undergo a comprehensive evaluation while the track is closed.

It is unclear if the track conditions have had a role in any of the fatalities, but the Arcadia-area has recently experienced a bout of bizarre weather, including 11.5 inches of rain, that could’ve affected the track’s conditions.

Santa Anita shut down for for two days last weeks to have the track examined. The track was cleared. Four-year-old filly Lets Light the Way died on the track after it was reopened.

The horse is one of 9 who have died during training on the dirt track at Santa Anita over the past 10 weeks. Seven horses died during races on the dirt oval and another five died during races on the turf course.

In response to The Stronach Group’s decision to suspend racing and training at Santa Anita Park indefinitely, the Humane Society of the United States provided this statement to PEOPLE:

The Humane Society of the United States is deeply concerned about the deaths of 21 racehorses since December 26 at the Santa Anita racetrack. We support and applaud the decision by The Stronach Group to indefinitely shut down racing as they investigate the causes of these deaths and to hire external experts to review the racing surfaces and all other aspects that may impact the health and safety of racehorses. We’ve long recognized that some in the industry are trying to address the welfare of racehorses by making changes to reduce the number of racehorses going to slaughter, and working with us to secure reintroduction and passage of the federal Horseracing Integrity Act to address doping problems, ban race-day medication, and substantially increase out-of-competition testing. We hope that Congress recognizes this act of leadership by Santa Anita as a desire for change, change that requires an act of Congress to make.

Racing and training at Santa Anita Park will remain suspended until The Stronach Group feels the track is safe for horses and jockeys. Ritvo told the AP he cannot speculate on when the suspension will end. The races set to occur at Santa Anita this weekend will be rescheduled for a later date.

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