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On the eve of some of the biggest races of the season, California’s storied Santa Anita racetrack is closed indefinitely after horses continue to die on its track.
Twenty-one horses have died in two months, a staggering rate even in a sport where horses regularly break down. By this point in Santa Anita’s 2017-18 winter season, 10 horses had died. The previous season, that number was eight.
“Something is drastically wrong. I’ve been around a long time and have never seen this,” trainer Art Sherman, 82, told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s something wrong in the foundation or something is not right. The only way to find out is shut it down.”
The Daily Racing Form reported the track is shuttered indefinitely as officials try to determine if a problem with the racing surface is causing horses to break down — and subsequently be euthanized by veterinarians.
Of the deaths during the winter meet, seven occurred during races on the dirt oval, five on the turf course and nine during training on the dirt.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he has no estimation for when the track will re-open. At the very least, racing is canceled this weekend. Two of the track’s marquee winter events were scheduled for the weekend: the Santa Anita Handicap and the San Felipe Stakes, a prep race for Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
This is the second time Santa Anita has closed this season due to horse fatalities. It closed for two days in late February after the shocking death of Battle of Midway, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion. Battle of Midway was euthanized after breaking down during training at Santa Anita.
Veterinarians determined Battle of Midway would have to be put down due to the severity of the breaks in one of his hind legs.
“There’s no words,” racing manager Fernando Diaz-Valdes told BloodHorse. “For us, it’s the loss of a child.”
On Feb. 26, the track’s dirt surface was peeled back 5 inches so its base could be thoroughly examined. Thanks to a particularly stormy California winter, the track has seen 11½ inches of rain and unusually cold temperatures this month.
“We think that (rain) could definitely contribute even though our experts are telling us not,” Ritvo told the Associated Press. “The tracks out here are built not for weather like that.”
Track officials announced former track superintendent Dennis Moore is returning as a consultant. Moore, who worked at Santa Anita from 2014 until retiring in December 2018, is on-site as “a precautionary measure with regard to the condition of the one-mile main track.”
“Without our athletes, without our most precious asset, there is no sport,” trainer Bob Hess told the Times. “Something is wrong and needs to be fixed and addressed immediately. It’s past the point of embarrassing.”
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/santa-anita-closed-san-felipe-battle-of-midway-13667291.php.