Santa Anita Park representatives pleaded with the Los Angeles County Department of Health to allow the continuation of live horse racing Thursday, even though it must be done without spectators during the coronavirus pandemic.
"Simply put, by ceasing live racing operations, we are jeopardizing the income stream for backstretch employees (racehorse caregivers) and the financial resources required to provide them and the horses they love with the care they both deserve," Belinda Stronach, the chairman and president of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, stated in an open letter.
"Without live racing, some may have to make a difficult choice to leave their home at Santa Anita Park ... a fact that entirely defeats the objective of the stay-at-home orders."
Santa Anita will remain closed through the weekend in accordance with orders from local health officials, meaning the Santa Anita Derby and Santa Anita Oaks races, which were set for Saturday, will be rescheduled later in the year, park officials said.
The track had been closed to the public for weeks but was continuing live racing until last Friday, and live racing has now been suspended indefinitely.
Under scrutiny earlier this week, Orange County's Los Alamitos Race Course was closed to the public by county officials, but allowed to continue its horse races.
Santa Anita took out a full-page advertisement in today's Los Angeles Times that said, "The horseracing community understands and will always abide by government orders. But there is much more behind the scenes than most people realize."
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Stronach said there are more than 750 caregivers, professionally known as backstretch employees, who work for horse owners and trainers and live onsite in dormitories at Santa Anita.
She said there are more than 1,700 racehorses at the park requiring constant supervision, care, feeding, exercise, veterinary care and more.
Without daily supervision, the horses could die, she said.
County Department of Public Health officials said in an email to City News Service, "Santa Anita was notified that horse racing is not defined as an essential service and they cannot have live races."
Santa Anita had just weathered a storm of controversy leading up to the coronavirus pandemic.
A months-long investigation by state regulators into the deaths of 23 horses at Santa Anita racetrack in 2018-19 found no evidence of illegal medications or procedures, but determined most of the horses had "pre-existing pathology," according to a report released last month by the California Horse Racing Board.