A prominent horse racetrack in Southern California reopened Thursday morning after being closed for soil inspection in the wake of 19 horse deaths.
Santa Anita Park closed its main track on Monday to evaluate sub-surface conditions and determine whether excess rain has contributed to the recent spike in fatalities. At least 19 horses have died there while racing or training since the track in Arcadia, about 17 miles northeast of Los Angeles, opened for the winter season on Dec. 26, according to California Horse Racing Board spokesperson Mike Martin.
That's double the number of horses that died at Santa Anita Park during the same period last year, according to The Los Angeles Times.
On average, there were 53 horse fatalities at Santa Anita Park each year from 2013 to 2018, according to data from the California Horse Racing Board.
Santa Anita Park said in a press release Sunday that the area has experienced more than 11 inches of rain and "near-record cold temperatures" in the past month, which may have impacted moisture content and soil consistency.
But Mick Peterson, director of the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Equine Programs who evaluates soil samples from Santa Anita Park every month, deemed the main track "one-hundred percent ready" for both training and racing on Wednesday evening.
Peterson and Santa Anita Park track superintendent Andy LaRocco tested soil samples and conducted a thorough examination of the track's cushion, pad and base. Peterson also used ground-penetrating radar to ensure uniform consistency throughout the 1-mile dirt oval.
"The ground penetrating radar verified all of the materials, silt, clay and sand, as well as moisture content, are consistent everywhere on this track," Peterson said in a statement Wednesday. "This testing ensures all components, the five-inch cushion, pad and base, are consistent and in good order."
Santa Anita Park's main track surface is tested and evaluated on a daily basis by park staff as well as the California Horse Racing Board. Peterson noted that maintaining the track's physical soundness is a constant challenge that involves a myriad of issues.
"All of the testing and research we've done, worldwide, clearly indicates soundness is multi-factorial," he said. "We must approach this challenge with the knowledge that this is always a process and we need to always strive to get better and that no matter how good the results may be, we must get better."
"If there are issues, they're going to be addressed," he added. "The safety of the horses, jockeys and exercise people is our number one priority and always will be."
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, said the safety and security of the athletes, both equine and human, are of utmost concern.
"All industry stakeholders, including our company, must be held accountable for the safety and security of the horses," Ritvo said in a statement Wednesday, "and we are committed to doing just that."