Santa Anita Park ceases racing on Health Department mandate

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Shortly before post time Friday at Santa Anita Park, the Arcadia, Calif., track issued the following statement indicating racing is off, but with no specified timeline for its return.

The decision leaves Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, Golden Gate Fields in northern California and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas as the only Thoroughbred tracks scheduled to run this weekend.

Santa Anita had stakes races carded Saturday and Sunday, including Sunday’s Santana Mile that featured the former Kentucky Derby favorite Improbable as a headliner. On April 4, the track was or, pending a reversal in course, is scheduled renew the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

The track’s statement reads in full:

“In accordance with instructions received from Los Angeles County Health Department, Santa Anita Park will temporarily close for live racing effective immediately in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We apologize for the late notice affecting today’s racing program, but Santa Anita is abiding by the instructions issued this morning by the California Horse Racing Board to operate under the sanction of the local health authorities.

“At Santa Anita Park, the health, safety and welfare of every person and every horse in our community is our top priority. At this time, there are no known cases of COVID-19 at Santa Anita Park. This measure is being taken in response to a mandate from LA County officials.

“At Santa Anita Park, there are over 1,700 horses stabled who require daily care. That care is provided by the 750 backstretch team members, most who live on-site and have been operating under stringent new measures for protection aligned with the best guidance from local and international health and government authorities on COVID-19. The track has been closed to the general public and to closed all but essential personnel since March 12, 2020.

“We will continue to work with authorities to familiarize them with the protocols which have been put in place to protect the health and safety of those who work with the horses and the horses themselves.

We look forward to the return of live racing at Santa Anita as soon as approval is received from local regulators.”

Earlier Friday, the California Horse Racing Board issued a notice that it “is relying on state, county and local health authorities to determine whether horse racing is deemed essential for exemption from shelter-in-place orders issued by those authorities.” In this case, local officials did not determine Santa Anita made the cut.

The move followed Thursday’s CHRB meeting in which Aidan Butler, acting director of California racing for The Stronach Group, made a plea to the board to explain to government counterparts how racing is different than other sports — that training goes on, and racing is ultimately a smaller option that generates revenue.

“We could end up with not only an animal welfare crisis, but a humanitarian crisis, because there is no need for the 750 people who call this place home to be here,” he told the board, should racing crase. “At that stage, the city of Arcadia now has a problem with people with nowhere to be, and the horses have a bigger problem with no one to care for them.”