By Dick Downey
At 1:15 am ET, Santa Anita, without admitting any problem with its dirt racing surface, formally announced the closure of the track for live racing and training effective immediately. The announcement says one-mile main track will be subject to "additional extensive testing."
The release says all stakes races set for this weekend, including the San Felipe, Santa Anita Handicap and San Carlos, will be rescheduled.
The California Horse Racing Board and numerous key industry stakeholders are in agreement with the decision, made by The Stronach Group, owner of the track..
The track was declared "100 percent" after testing early last week. Additional testing of the track will be led by veteran trackman Dennis Moore, expanding on ground radar testing conducted earlier by the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Mick Peterson.
Measures will also include utilizing an Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester, a device that mimics the impacts of a horse running at full gallop. The release says this will allow engineers to see how the track "holds up."
Further, without elaboration, The Stronach Group says it will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of "all existing safety measures and current protocols."
“The safety, health and welfare of the horses and jockeys is our top priority,” said Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer, The Stronach Group. “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.”
Since Dec. 26, opening day of the current meet, 20 horses have broken down and been euthanized during racing or training. A 21st death was from another cause. Some of those fatalities occurred on the turf course, but the vast majority occurred on the main dirt track. Two of them occurred after the track was closed for testing last week, including one yesterday.
According to a report at Thoroughbred Daily News, there were 20 fatalities in all of 2017, when there were 122 racing days at the track.
Bloodhorse.com tweeted last night no fatalities have occurred on the dirt training track since the meet opened, and some thought is being given to opening it for training this weekend.