Famous US racetrack halts racing, seeks reason behind 21 track fatalities

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The Santa Anita track is set against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. Photo: Elf assumed (based on copyright claims), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia
The Santa Anita track is set against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. Photo: Elf assumed (based on copyright claims), CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia

Thoroughbred racing at California’s famous Santa Anita track has been suspended while a major safety assessment is carried out on the track following a string of horse deaths.

The decision followed the loss on Tuesday of 4-year-old filly Lets Light the Way, who was euthanized after shattering a lower leg bone during training. She was the 21st horse fatality in racing or training on the track since December 26.

The one-mile main track will not be available for racing or training while the testing is done.

All stakes races scheduled for this weekend, including the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, the Grade 2 San Felipe and the Grade 2 San Carlos will be rescheduled.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer for The Stronach Group, which owns the racetrack, said closing the track was the right thing to do at this time.

“We are confident further testing will confirm the soundness of the track,” he said.

It is unclear when the track will be reopened.

The company said it had been in constant contact with the California Horse Racing Board and other key stakeholders, who agreed with the decision to suspend racing and training.

The testing of the track will be led by veteran track specialist Dennis Moore, expanding on the ground radar testing conducted earlier this week by the University of Kentucky’s Dr Mick Peterson.

Measures will include use of an Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester, a device that mimics the impacts of a horse running at full gallop, which will allow 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.

The company says it will also re-examine all existing safety measures and current protocols.

The 21 track deaths since Boxing day represent a major spike in fatalities, running at about twice the level of last year.

The track has received 12 inches of rain in recent weeks, although there is nothing at this stage that links the deaths to the moisture.

The main track at Santa Anita has undergone several transformations in recent years. It has had two synthetic surfaces since 2007, but has since been returned to a dirt surface.

However, since its return to dirt, the rate of fatal injuries during races at Santa Anita has jumped from 0.59 per 1000 starts on a synthetic surface in 2010 to 3.13 per 1000 starts in 2016.

The average rate between 2011 and 2017 was 2.38 fatalities per 1000 starts, which is reported to be about four times that of the last season on a synthetic track.

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