Death toll at California horse track rises to 19 as employees test soil

PHOTO: Horses take the final turn during the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, April 9, 2005, in Arcadia, Calif.PlayDonald Miralle/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Death toll at horse track rises to 19; soil tested

A horse racing track in Southern California has closed as employees seek to determine whether the soil and the excess rain in the area have contributed to the rising death toll of horses.

Mike Martin, public information officer for the California Horse Racing Board, confirmed to ABC News that 19 horses have died since the Santa Anita Park in Arcadia -- about 17 miles northeast of Los Angeles -- opened for the season on Dec. 26.

That's double the number of horses that died during the same time period last year, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Three horses died in a 16-hour period, one of which was 6-year-old Breeders’ Cup winner Battle of Midway, according to the LA Times.

The park closed its main track on Monday and Tuesday to evaluate the surface conditions of the track, according to a press release. Regular training will resume Wednesday if the testing indicates that the soil is in prime condition.

The area has experienced more than 11 inches of rain and “near-record cold temperatures” in the past month, which may have impacted the condition of the soil, according to the park. The track surface is tested and evaluated on a daily basis, the park said.

PHOTO: Horses take the final turn during the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, April 9, 2005, in Arcadia, Calif. Donald Miralle/Getty Images, FILE
Horses take the final turn during the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park, April 9, 2005, in Arcadia, Calif.

Between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, the park had 44 fatalities during the seven-month racing season, the LA Times reported. Ten of the deaths occurred during dirt racing and 17 deaths occurred during dirt training, according to the newspaper.

Saturday’s races concluded with no serious injuries or fatalities, the LA Times reported.

The California Horse Racing Board is observing and making recommendations for the evaluation of the track but it is not involved in the testing, Martin said.

The ASPCA did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

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