Del Mar experienced similar problems - see belowhttps://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/sd-sp-santa-anita-horse-deaths-del-mar-20190306-story.html
By Tod Leonard
6 March 2019
In late summer of 2016, it was the Del Mar racetrack under the magnified, unwanted spotlight now focused on Santa Anita Park.
Del Mar suffered 17 horse deaths in its popular meet that year, with another five breaking down in fall racing. Animal rights activists responded in force, and a state lawmaker called for a full investigation by the California Horse Racing Board.
Through a full renovation of its track, significant changes in procedures and likely some plain good fortune, Del Mar markedly turned around its safety record.
There were a total of seven fatal breakdowns for both meets in 2017, with four horse deaths in all of 2018.
That is a startling contrast to the 21 horses who have died at Santa Anita since Dec. 26, prompting the track’s officials to indefinitely suspend racing while the condition of the main dirt track is assessed.
With national mainstream media reporting about Santa Anita, Del Mar officials know and feel their pain.
“We are very unsettled by this,” Del Mar spokesman Mac McBride said Wednesday. “No. 1, we’re unsettled for the horses and the horsemen who are losing them. There is a ripple effect, especially here in Southern California. Everybody knows that ‘but for fortune go I.’ It can happen.”
As nervous owners and trainers await word on when Santa Anita might resume racing, McBride said there have been inquires about possibly housing and training horses at Del Mar.
The problem for Del Mar, however, is that it is currently undergoing a major water reclamation project in its infield that has heavy trucks and equipment crossing the track throughout the day. McBride said it is unlikely that Del Mar would be able to get into a position to host training.
In the meantime, Del Mar’s executives keep a close eye on Santa Anita and hope for the best.
Del Mar track superintendent Dennis Moore has been contracted by Santa Anita to return to examine and work on the Arcadia track beginning Thursday. Moore was at Santa Anita starting in 2014; he also agreed to renovate Del Mar’s track before the 2017 summer meeting that saw the positive upturn in safety.
Late last year, Moore, who lives in Fallbrook, decided to take Santa Anita off his busy schedule, while still working for Del Mar and Los Alamitos.
“If there is something wrong with the racetrack at Santa Anita, Dennis will find it and he will fix it,” McBride said.
The heavy string of deaths have left Santa Anita management baffled. Rain could be considered a factor, since the track received 11½ inches of it in February.
A week ago, Santa Anita commissioned Mick Peterson, the director of Ag Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky, to examine the track, and he concluded there were no issues with the surface on the days of his study.
Santa Anita announced Wednesday afternoon that Peterson and Moore will do additional testing of the track “to ensure track consistency and uniformity for both training and racing.”
A normal dry track has a deep cushion of dirt to keep horses’ hooves from bottoming out or finding irregularities on the hard pan underneath. With rain, that surface softens and can separate, possibly leaving the bottom layer exposed. Superintendents combat that by “sealing” the track with equipment that pushes the water away. It makes it smoother, but also slick and faster.
On Wednesday, Dr. Rick Arthur, chief equine veterinarian for the California Horse Racing Board and UC Davis, told the Los Angeles Times that after looking for common traits among the 21 fatalities, he couldn’t find anything that stood out.
“They are all over the place, from Battle of Midway, a well-seasoned horse, to a first-time starter,” Arthur said, noting that the deceased horses are from 17 different trainers.
The backgrounds of the horses will be studied and necropsies are ongoing, but Arthur warned there may never been a definitive answer about these 21 deaths.
“We can hope that it identifies strategies that make racing safer,” Arthur said. “It’s not just the track. It’s not just the horse. It’s the whole schedule … the training program, the racing program, everything.”
Though Del Mar officials acknowledge they haven’t found the antidote for horse racing deaths, they believe the steps they took after the tragic summer of 2016 have made a significant difference.
Among those McBride listed: the full renovation of the track surface; fewer racing days; fewer horses housed and training at the track; three breaks (instead of two) in morning training for the track to be refreshed; and after those breaks, giving priority to horses running a full workout to run along the rail.
Additionally, McBride said Del Mar has been “ferocious” with its own veterinarians to identify horses that are unfit to race. That includes examining a horse’s past race and training performance.
If a maiden horse hasn’t run in nine months and has only two workouts in that time, “Uh oh, that’s a huge red flag,” McBride said.
“We’ve told our vets that we’re getting really serious about the horses,” McBride said. “We cannot allow a horse on the track that shouldn’t be racing. It’s on you guys to find them in advance.”
McBride notes all of this and then finds a nearby piece of wood to tap.
“The last two years we’ve had awfully safe meetings,” he said.