California park suspending racing after 21 horses die at racetrack, report says

A statue of Zenyatta stands in the paddock gardens area at Santa Anita Park. The park is suspending racing at least through the weekend following reports of 21 racehorses dying while racing or training at the famed track since December 26.

CALIFORNIA – Santa Anita Park announced Tuesday it is suspending racing at least through the weekend following reports of 21 racehorses dying while racing or training at the famed track since December 26.

The announcement came hours after the death of 4-year-old filly Let’s Light the Way, the Los Angeles Times reported. She injured her right front leg while training and was euthanized Tuesday.

“The safety, health and welfare of the horses and jockeys is our top priority,” Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns and operates the Arcadia, California facility, said in a statement posted to the racetrack’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.”

CNN has reached out to Santa Anita Park but has not received a reply.

Let’s Light the Way was the ninth horse to die after a training injury on the main track, while 12 have died while racing (five on the turf and seven on the dirt track) since December 26, the LA Times reported.

The number of fatalities is almost double that of all of last year, according to the Times, and experts have been looking at the racing surface for irregularities. A test last week found no issues, the LA Times reported.

The park said in a news release that it has hired a consultant to examine the condition of the track “as a precautionary measure.”

“Human and equine safety are of paramount importance” to the consultant, Dennis Moore, the release says. He was the Santa Anita Track Superintendent until the end of 2018 and now works as Track Superintendent at both Del Mar and Los Alamitos, according to the release.

Southern California has endured an unusually harsh, rainy winter. On Sunday, the track halted live racing due to forecasts of heavy rains Tuesday and Wednesday, but remained open for training throughout the week.

The California Horse Racing Board, which grants licenses for racing, told CNN that the board has been “in contact with Santa Anita on an ongoing basis as they have tried to deal with this situation.”

“The Board is now examining other options to prevent additional fatalities,” said Mike Marten, public information officer for the board.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called for the track to remain closed and an investigation into the circumstances of the horses’ deaths.

Santa Anita Park was scheduled this weekend to host the Santa Anita Handicap, a race for older horses, as well as the San Felipe Handicap, an important preparatory race to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

The Santa Anita Park Racetrack dates back to 1907 and has been a prominent location in the racing community. In 1940, Seabiscuit won the Santa Anita Handicap, and in 2002 the park was a filming location for the movie named after him.

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