Santa Anita, one of the worlds most famous racetracks, has cancelled racing indefinitely to re-examine its dirt surface after the deaths of 21 horses in the last two months
Racing at Santa Anita in Los Angeles, one of world racings most iconic venues and the host track for this years Breeders Cup, has been suspended indefinitely after the death of a four-year-old filly during training at the course on Tuesday, the 21st fatality there since 26 December.
Training on its dirt track has also been suspended, and the valuable and significant cards for this weekend, including two Grade One events and an important trial for the Kentucky Derby in May, have been cancelled. The halt to activities on the dirt will allow officials to carry out extensive testing to confirm the soundness of the track, according to Tim Ritvo, its chief operating officer, who announced the suspension on Wednesday morning.
The rate of fatal injuries at Santa Anita, which stages around 125 days racing each year, is around twice the level for the same period last year, when there were 10 fatalities. A year earlier only eight horses suffered fatal injuries in the same period. The most high-profile name to be lost during the current spate is Battle Of Midway, who took the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs last November.
Lets Light The Way, the most recent casualty, injured her right front leg while training on Tuesday morning and was put down shortly afterwards. She was the ninth horse to die while exercising on the dirt. Seven more have sustained fatal injuries while racing on the dirt track and five have been put down after races on its turf track.
Santa Anita said in a statement that Dennis Moore, its track superintendent from 2014 to December 2018, has been retained as a consultant to assist with the investigation of the tracks condition. Moore oversaw the latest significant change to the racing surface in the summer of 2014, when the previous dirt course, a mixture of sand and clay, was replaced with El Segundo sand, a singlesource material.
The one-mile main track at Santa Anita has had a troubled time over the last dozen years. Californias racing industry led the way on the introduction of artificial surfaces in the US in 2007 when Santa Anita installed a Cushion Track circuit, but that was replaced a year later with Pro-Ride after drainage problems with the previous surface.
The Breeders Cup meeting was staged on Pro-Ride in 2008 and 2009 but the surface proved controversial with local trainers, whose stables largely held dirt-bred horses. The synthetic track encouraged Europeantrained horses to enter Breeders Cup events on the main track as well as the turf circuit, and runners from Britain, Ireland and France all enjoyed significant successes, including the victory of Ravens Pass for John Gosden and Frankie Dettori in the 2008 Breeders Cup Classic.
Since its return to a dirt surface the rate of fatal injuries during races at Santa Anita has jumped from 0.59 per 1,000 starts on the synthetic track in 2010 to a high of 3.13 per 1,000 starts on dirt in 2016. The average rate over the seven years between 2011 and 2017, the last season for which figures are available, is 2.38 fatalities per 1,000 starts, around four times higher than its last season on Pro-Ride.
Santa Anita is due to stage the Breeders Cup meeting for a record 10th time on 1 and 2 November.
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