In an unprecedented move, Santa Anita Race Track has canceled horse racing at least through this weekend after the 21st fatality at the track Tuesday morning.
The move was made so experts could continue to study the track surface in the hopes of finding out what has caused the sudden, dramatic rise in racing deaths since the meet opened December 26th.
Tuesday the track hired Dennis Moore, the track superintendent at Del Mar as a consultant. He began his evaluation of the track on Wednesday. Furthermore, the University of Kentucky also has a track safety expert headed to Santa Anita for additional assessment.
Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, told The Associated Press that officials feel confident in the track surface but want to be “very proactive” and do all the testing that needs to be done.
Racing this week was scheduled Friday through Sunday after Thursday’s card was canceled in anticipation of rain. The main track will also remain closed. No restart date has been announced. The next scheduled racing day after this weekend is Thursday, March 14.
Shutting down the track is a startling move as it forces the postponement of one of the biggest race days of the year Saturday, which included the Santa Anita Handicap and a major Kentucky Derby Prep-Race for 3-year-olds, the San Felipe Stakes.
LETS LIGHT THE WAY, a 4-year-old filly for owner-trainer Ron McAnally, was euthanized after she could not be saved after injuring her right front leg during a morning workout on Tuesday. It was the ninth death during training on the main dirt track. Seven horses have died racing on the dirt track and five on the turf track.
Mick Peterson, a nationally acclaimed expert on racing surfaces from the University of Kentucky, was brought in last week to examine the track, and after extensive testing found it have no irregularities. Since then, two more horses have died.
“If you can’t figure it out, you have to quit racing,” Peterson said Tuesday, before the cancellations. “At this point I’m skeptical of what we do. … I’ve told (Racing Secretary) Steve Lym, we’ll keep testing until we know what’s going on. We’re all in. We’re going to figure it out.”
Santa Anita received 11.5 inches of rain and had unusually cold temperatures in February, but it’s unclear whether track conditions played a role in any of the fatalities.
The Daily Racing Blog will be back on Friday with profiles and analysis on Saturdays other two KD Prep-Races, The Gotham Stakes, and The Tampa Bay Derby.