Santa Anita Cancels Racing Indefinitely After 21 Horse Deaths In 10 Weeks
ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita has canceled racing indefinitely to re-examine its dirt surface after the deaths of 21 horses in the last two-and-a-half months.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, told The Associated Press Tuesday that racing won't be held this weekend, when two major races were scheduled: the San Felipe for 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls and the Santa Anita Handicap for older horses.
Ritvo wouldn't speculate on when training and racing would resume. After this weekend, races were to be run again starting March 14 at the storied racetrack slated to host the Breeders' Cup world championships for a record 10th time this fall.
"In whole, we feel confident in the track and we're just being very proactive," Ritvo said. "We want to do all the testing that needs to be done. When we believe we're in good shape, we'll start to train over it again."
The Daily Racing Form first reported the cancellation.
The latest fatality occurred during training on Tuesday, when a 4-year-old filly got injured and was euthanized.
"Obviously, one horse is too many," Ritvo said. "The recent rash is just horrible. We need to definitely take a step back and evaluate everything."
Santa Anita received 11-1/2 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 National Weather Service was forecasting 1 to 2 inches of rain in Los Angeles County starting overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday.
"We think that (rain) could definitely contribute even though our experts are telling us not," Ritvo said. "The tracks out here are built not for weather like that."
Ritvo said officials are "a little bit concerned" with the latest impending storm and how the dirt surface can change from muddy to fast in a short time.
Besides re-examining the dirt track, Ritvo said all racing protocols would be looked at.
"We won't rush it," he said. "Everybody takes a deep breath."
Ritvo was uncertain whether the San Felipe and Santa Anita Handicap would be rescheduled.
"Those are huge races," he said. "We hope so."
Seven deaths have occurred during races on the dirt oval at Santa Anita since the track's winter meet began on Dec. 26. Five have occurred on the turf course and nine came during training on dirt.
The highest-profile horse to be euthanized was Battle of Midway, winner of the 2017 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. The 5-year-old bay also finished third in the 2017 Kentucky Derby for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The horse suffered injuries during a workout on Feb. 23.
Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally said 4-year-old filly Lets Light the Way "took a bad step or something" on Tuesday.
He said the injury was a shattered sesamoid in her right front leg. Sesamoid bones provide anchor points for the two branches of the suspensory ligament. The bones are under stress each time a horse takes a step. Lets Light the Way was X-rayed and later euthanized.
"I think the weather has a lot to do with it," said McAnally, whose wife, Debbie, owned the filly.
"Santa Anita has been a wonderful track, and they've done all kinds of tests," McAnally said. "I don't know what else they could do. It's a fluky thing."
Debbie McAnally told CBS Los Angeles, "It is a tragic loss, and weren't not too sure why it happened. We just need to get all the facts out there and go from there."